Bob Baffert has issued an upbeat bulletin on his Saudi Cup contenders and said that, if for whatever reason his short-priced favourite Taiba (Gun Runner) does not get the job done, then stablemate and last year’s runner-up Country Grammer (Tonalist) should be there to pick up the pieces in the world’s richest race on Saturday.
The Saudi Cup is one of the only big dirt races that has eluded Baffert and, along with Country Grammer, the American handler has sent out Charlatan to fill the runner-up spot to Mishriff (Ire) in 2021.
This year’s challenge is headed by three-time Grade I winner Taiba, who had to be put through the stalls on Friday morning after his antics at the track the previous day, and the battle-hardened Country Grammer. Mike Smith will partner Taiba while Frankie Dettori takes the mount aboard Country Grammer.
“He just has so much quality,” Baffert said of Taiba. “He will do what you want–he can go forward or come from off the pace–I don’t worry about him. He’ll fool you, because he’s such a lazy work horse in the mornings and is so laidback, but when he gets in that gate and the lights turn on, that’s when his light turns on.”
Taiba will line out for Saturday’s race at Riyadh off the back of an easy win in the Malibu S. on December 26, the same Grade I Baffert’s 2021 runner-up Charlatan won in preparation for his Saudi Cup effort.
“Charlatan was a brilliant horse with just brilliant speed, but he got into a speed duel with Knicks Go, which cost him the race, but this horse has speed and stamina. The Gun Runners want to run longer, mostly, and this horse–while not as brilliant speed-wise as Charlatan–has that same class and he can go longer.
“He is tough to ride and that’s why Mike Smith had to really get him out and get him going last time in the Malibu. Once you put him into the race, he has the stamina, and that’s why, when he missed the break [when third] in the Breeders’ Cup [Classic], it hurt him. He wasn’t going to beat Flightline, but it cost him second.”
Earlier on that December 26 card at Santa Anita, Country Grammer returned to the winner’s enclosure impressively in the Grade 2 San Antonio. Thus far, he is two out of two with Dettori in the saddle.
“I think both horses are doing really well and Jimmy [Barnes, assistant] is really happy with how they look out there. Country Grammer is a horse who always runs his race. Frankie knows him really well and if the horse shows up, he’ll get the job done if Taiba doesn’t. This horse has never been better-he’s a better horse this year, I think-and he likes this track, which is really key.
“The Saudi Cup is one of the toughest races to win,” Baffert continued. “I’ve never won it and I really want to. It’s a long ship and a different surface and you have to keep them at their best the entire time.
“It’s a challenge and that’s what I love. I’d love to win it for these owners. Amr [Zedan] and the Troutts [owners of WinStar Farm] and the rest of the connections have been so loyal to me and we have won some great races together–a Triple Crown with Justify–but to win this one would be an honor and I’m just blessed to have two good horses in the race.
“Everyone can really run in this race and it’s a tough field, but expectations are high and we have some owners with a love and passion for the horse, itself, and for horse racing, so we hope we can win it for them.”
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