Jockey Irad Ortiz pulled out all the stops to give Country Grammer a winning trip in the $100,000 Peter Pan (G3) on opening day at Saratoga. From there, Country Grammer did the rest, battling gamely down the stretch to prevail by a hard-fought neck.
Nine horses turned out to contest the 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race, which offered 85 qualification points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis. Fresh off a third-place effort in a Belmont Park allowance race, the stretch-running Country Grammer was overlooked as the 41-10 third choice despite hailing from the barn of four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown.
When the gates opened, Country Grammer flashed a bit more early speed than usual from post 2, settling in fourth position along the inside as longshots Mo Hawk and Celtic Striker opened up a clear early advantage through splits of :23.24, :48.13, and 1:12.35. As the pace slowed down the backstretch, Ortiz allowed Country Grammer to advance up the rail, closing to within two lengths of the lead as the field swung around the far turn.
At this juncture, Country Grammer needed luck to find racing room. Ortiz could have waited and circled round on the far outside, but instead he waited. When an opening appeared inside the pacesetters, Ortiz urged his mount to accelerate through the narrow opening.
It may well have been the winning move. No sooner had Country Grammer struck the front than the pace-tracking Caracaro loomed large on the far outside, surging forward to put a head in front at the eighth pole. The two colts raced close enough to bump down the lane, but ultimately Country Grammer’s tenacity won the day, as the son of Tonalist fought back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in 1:49.79.
“Irad gave him a beautiful ride. He took advantage of his inside post,” Brown told the New York Racing Association. “He trains that way and he’s a bit of a grinder. He’s a long-distance horse and we’ve been wanting to get him back out to a mile and an eighth.”
Caracaro finished 3 1/4 lengths clear of the favored Mystic Guide, who raced sluggishly in the early going before rallying belatedly to round out the trifecta. Celtic Striker, Modernist, Chestertown, Candy Tycoon, Mo Hawk, and Katzarelli completed the order of finish.
Produced by the Forestry mare Arabian Song, Country Grammer was bred in Kentucky by Scott Pierce and Debbie Pierce and races for Paul P. Pompa. Sold for $450,000 as a 2-year-old in training, Country Grammer’s only previous foray on the Road to the Kentucky Derby produced a deceptively strong fifth-place effort in the Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth (G2), beaten just half a length for the runner-up spot.
Considering Tonalist won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (G1) and later developed into a high-class 4-year-old, Country Grammer has the pedigree to improve with distance and maturity, a possibility reflected in his steady progression throughout 2020. Next on the agenda is the $1 million Travers (G1) on August 8 at Saratoga, which could potentially propel Country Grammer toward a start in the Kentucky Derby.
“Obviously, the logical thing is to point him to the Travers at a mile and a quarter,” Brown said. “I don’t think he’ll have a problem with the distance. We’ll have to see if he’s good enough. He hasn’t run many times and there’s room for improvement there. It’s a race we hoped to get him to, and I’ll talk to Mr. Pompa about it.”