July 18, 2024

Country Grammer seeks to regain Hollywood Gold Cup title

Country Grammer (inside) turns back Royal Ship in the 2021 Hollywood Gold Cup (Photo by Benoit Photo)

Hero of the 2021 Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) before going on his Mideast tour of duty, Country Grammer seeks to regain his title in Monday’s $400,000 renewal at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert trainee is joined by stablemate Defunded, runner-up here a year ago in Country Grammer’s absence.

Hollywood Gold Cup – Race 8 (7:30 p.m. ET)

Country Grammer makes a quicker reappearance stateside than he did last year, when he didn’t turn up again until Del Mar. He also had mixed fortunes this time around in his Saudi-to-Dubai venture. In 2022, Country Grammer parlayed a bang-up second in the Saudi Cup (G1) to victory in the Dubai World Cup (G1). The six-year-old appeared to be on a similar course when he again finished second in the Feb. 25 Saudi Cup, but he ran a subpar seventh in his Dubai title defense.

Drawn on the rail in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Country Grammer reunites with Flavien Prat for the first time since the 2022 Saudi Cup. Their only prior partnership came in this 1 1/4-mile feature two years ago, where County Grammer bravely outdueled Royal Ship.

Defunded, who carries the joint top weight of 124 pounds with Country Grammer, is not so proven at this distance. But the gelding has gone close in both of his attempts. Beaten a length in the 2022 Gold Cup, he was only three-quarters of a length adrift when third in the March 4 Santa Anita H. (G1). Defunded rebounded in the April 22 Californian (G2) last out, despite a troubled start that saw him rally from last instead of being on the engine. The maturing five-year-old wired last fall’s Awesome Again (G1) over Country Grammer, and he remains a threat if he can see out the trip with Juan Hernandez.

Ack Ack (G3) victor Senor Buscador stretches out to the classic distance for the first time. The Todd Fincher charge was a closing fourth, however, in the April 22 Oaklawn H. (G2) that featured principals from the Big ‘Cap. Proxy, who just missed to Stilleto Boy at Santa Anita, turned the tables at Oaklawn. Senor Buscador’s marquee wins have come from a mile to 1 1/16 miles, but his pedigree and running style keep hinting that he can go farther. Luis Saez picks up the mount on the son of Mineshaft.

Yes This Time, a useful turf sophomore of 2021 when capturing the Kent (G3), failed to build on that campaign. Switched to Mark Glatt earlier this season, he now tries the main track for the first time since his career debut. But he’s bred to enjoy the surface, being by Not This Time out of a Smart Strike mare, and Glatt is firing at 27% with turf-to-dirt moves. Kazushi Kimura gets the call.

Piroli makes his stakes debut for high-percentage Michael McCarthy, who sent out 2022 winner There Goes Harvard. As one of just five registered foals from the lone crop by ill-fated Battle of Midway, Piroli would be a sentimental choice on Memorial Day. Kiss Today Goodbye, winless since the 2020 San Antonio (G2), needs to improve from his fourth in the Californian.

The Hollywood Gold Cup anchors the three Grade 1s on the special holiday program, preceded by the Gamely (G1) and Shoemaker Mile (G1) on turf.