Country Grammer holds Royal Ship to Hollywood Gold Cup – San Gabriel Valley Tribune
No one is likely to ever compare Country Grammer and Royal Ship to some of the greatest racing champions who won Hollywood’s historic Grade I Gold Cup, but few editions of the race have included a spectacular duel like the 84th Monday race in Santa Anita.
Country Grammer and Royal Ship, who finished 1-2 in the Californian Stakes at Santa Anita on April 17, ran as a team the full length of the stretch before Country Grammer won a header under Flavien Prat, reversing the Californian’s result when Royal Ship and Mike Smith received a nod.
Royalties such as Citation, Seabiscuit, Native Diver, Affirmed and Cigar made their way into the Gold Cup winner’s circle. Country Grammer and Royal Ship don’t carry the same glowing credentials, but they make a great show nonetheless.
The victory gave coach Bob Baffert his record-breaking eighth Gold Cup victory, the same number as legendary Charlie Whittingham, who recorded his last Gold Cup victory with Ferdinand in 1987.
Brown Storm, a 19-1 long shot, set the tone with fractions of 22.92, 47.16 and 1: 12.09 as Country Grammer and Royal Ship placed second and third respectively after the first 6 stages of the 1¼ mile run.
Country Grammer put their head ahead at the top of the stretch, but Royal Ship took a narrow lead halfway through before Country Grammer struggled stubbornly along the rail and won for their first Class I victory and their third in the general classification in eight starts while the 9-5 favorite.
Royal Ship was 4¼ lengths ahead of the 2-1 runner-up Express Train, at the end in the field of seven horses.
The official time was 2:02:23.
“He ran really well,” said Prat, who claimed his first Gold Cup victory. “It broke well and I was able to put myself in a good position. I was a little worried when I saw Mike Smith outside of me. I wish I could have kept it inside. Mike took the lead on me, but my horse was really ready to come back.
Country Grammer, a 4-year-old son of Tonalist, made his first six career starts for Chad Brown in New York and Florida before transferring to Baffert and making his West Coast debut in California.
“Elliot Walden and WinStar (the horse’s owner) bought it to bring it to California because they thought a mile and a quarter was its distance,” Baffert said. “His form on gravel was really good last year.
“It looked like he was beaten today, but he threw it… it’s exciting. He had a big race last time around and got beaten. He was really ready to go today and I think distance was the key. He did it with a lot of class and determination.
Royal Ship, raised in Brazil and making his sixth start in the United States for coach Richard Mandella, made his first start at a mile and a quarter and was the third pick 3-1 in the bet.
Express Train, last in advance, rallied for third, a half length better than Rushie.
Baffert won his first Gold Cup with Real Quiet in 1999, then followed with Congaree (2003), First Dude (2011), Game On Dude (2012-13), Cupid (2013) and Improbable (2020).
It was the eighth race of the Hollywood Gold Cup in Santa Anita. The first 76 editions of the race were held in Hollywood Park before it closed in 2013.