The Tonalist colt eked out a neck victory July 16 at Saratoga.
Paul Pompa Jr.’s Country Grammer made a serious move up the 2020 Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard July 16 with a well-fought victory in the $100,000 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) at Saratoga Race Course.
In what was only his second effort in graded company, the son of Tonalist broke well under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and carved out a space in fourth just behind frontrunners Mo Hawk, Celtic Striker, and Caracaro.
Mo Hawk and jockey Joel Rosario made a beeline to the front of the pack at the break and set easy fractions of :23.24 and :48.13 through the half-mile. The pair, running close to the rail, were stalked early by Celtic Striker, who recovered quickly from a wobbly break to press the pace in second. Guided by Javier Castellano, Caracaro raced unhurried almost two lengths behind Celtic Striker, who was guided out by Manny Franco coming off the first turn to race in the two path.
Mo Hawk maintained a one-length advantage as six furlongs went in 1:12.35. But despite his clear lead, the frontrunner began to drift and slow exiting the far turn. Caracaro seized the opportunity to power forward to the front but was followed by Country Grammer, who found a gap through the leaders and picked up momentum heading into the lane.
Country Grammer chipped away at Caracaro’s lead through the stretch and drew even, with the final eighth-mile left to run. With the wire in sight, the pair were head to head, even bumping slightly in the final strides, before Country Grammer was able to eke out the slimmest of leads.
Caracaro fought valiantly to the finish but came up just a neck short. The final time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:49.79 on a track rated fast.
“Irad gave him a beautiful ride,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He took advantage of his inside post. 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.”
“He’s a fighter,” Ortiz said. “He has a great trainer, and he has something left at the end. Chad’s horses finish really good. I never gave up, and I was lucky he came back.”
Despite the runner-up finish, Castellano said he was proud of Caracaro’s effort and excited about the colt’s potential.
“I had a beautiful trip,” Castellano said. “I like the way it set up. My horse usually likes to go to the lead and tries to dictate the pace. He broke a little sideways out of the gate. I decided not to rush and put him in the lead, and just let him develop himself. I think he got tired the last part of the race—he hadn’t run in such a long time. I’m very satisfied with how he did it today. He was only beat a little bit, and I’m not disappointed at all. I’m excited for his future.”
Bred in Kentucky by Scott and Debbie Pierce out of the Forestry mare Arabian Song, Country Grammer was a $450,000 purchase by Bradley Thoroughbreds, agent, from the consignment of Wavertree Stables to the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. The colt entered the Peter Pan off a third-place finish in a June 4 allowance race at Belmont Park.
“This horse has never really trained good at Belmont,” Brown said. “We ran him there because that’s where he was, but he just didn’t like the track that much. He had a nice work over the track here (at Saratoga) last week, and we were optimistic he was going to run much better.
Now that he’s proven he can handle the Saratoga track, Brown said a possible next target for Country Grammer would be the Aug. 8 Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1).
“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.”
Although elated by his horse’s victory, New York native Brown said it had been a difficult adjustment to see Saratoga empty of fans on opening day for the first time in memory.
“It’s really nice to win this race, but definitely a bittersweet day when this beautiful place is empty where I grew up,” Brown said. “We’ll try to get through the meet and hold out hope that maybe it will open more during the meet, but there’s no guarantees about that. We’ll do the best we can, and we’re grateful they’re running here. Hopefully, this is the only year we have to do this.
“NYRA has really done a good job. It feels very safe on the backside training in the morning. It’s well organized, and I think it’s a very safe environment.”
Country Grammer improved his record to 2-0-1 from five starts with $117,320 in earnings. His 50 qualifying points earned in the Peter Pan put him in 11th place on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) leaderboard.