June 23, 2024

Country Grammer the one to beat in Awesome Again

Emblem Road passes Country Grammer to become the first local winner of the Saudi Cup (Photo by Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Douglas De Felice)

It would be hard to fault Country Grammer if the horse felt as if he had won last month’s Pacific Classic (G1), with the winning Flightline so far ahead of him (by 19 lengths) and third-place finisher Royal Ship well behind him (by seven lengths).

With no Flightline to worry about, Saturday’s $300,000 Awesome Again S. (G1) at Santa Anita looks like a highly winnable spot for the Dubai World Cup (G1) winner, who seeks to give trainer Bob Baffert his eighth win in the race and third in a row following recent scorers Improbable (2020) and Medina Spirit (2021).

Baffert is taking several other shots in the 1 1/8-mile fixture, though each have serious liabilities. Grade 3 scorer Azul Coast hasn’t raced since December, while Defunded has been well beaten in two starts since finishing second in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1). The three-year-old High Connection has plenty of upside, but was surprisingly beaten by a longshot rival in the one-mile Shared Belief S. at Del Mar in early September.

On his best day, Express Train figures as the one of main threats to Country Grammer. Pacific Classic Day wasn’t one of them, as Express Train finished fourth by 26 lengths, but the five-year-old’s record is appreciably better at Santa Anita, where he won three stakes last winter, including the Santa Anita H. (G1).

The aforementioned Royal Ship is enigmatic, surprising on some days and running below expectations on others. However, he’s scored some wins over Country Grammer, most notably in the 2021 Californian (G2) and in the July 30 San Diego H. (G2).

The field is rounded out by recent Del Mar Derby (G2) winner Slow Down Andy, who is also a multiple graded stakes winner on dirt, and the older Tripoli, who has been uncompetitive since winning the 2021 Pacific Classic.

The winner of the Awesome Again will receive a free berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series.