Country Grammer (Tonalist) brings rock-solid credentials to the G1 Saudi Cup at Riyadh, according to his legendary rider Frankie Dettori, who says the Bob Baffert-trained six-year-old can go one better than last year in Saturday’s showpiece.
Dettori also described Baffert’s other runner in the race, the unexposed Taiba (Gun Runner), as a force to be reckoned with as the 52-year-old spoke alongside fellow luminary in the saddle, Joao Moreira, in the build-up to the world’s richest race.
“Country Grammer is very solid and never runs a bad race-touch wood he doesn’t start now,” Dettori joked at a media event at Riyadh racecourse on Thursday morning.
“He was second last year, is tough and has travelled before, which is a plus. I would be foolish to say that I am confident but I am very pleased to ride him and he will give his best.”
Baffert has had the Saudi Cup on Country Grammer’s agenda for a while now and elected to sidestep taking on the unbeaten champion Flightline in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in November, a decision Dettori hopes will be vindicated on Saturday.
He explained, “Bob and the Zedan Racing Stables, they skipped the [Breeders’ Cup] Classic because they thought it would be tough to beat the good horse [Flightline]. He has been aimed at these two races, the Saudi Cup and then on to Dubai, so this was always the plan. We have 48 hours to go so fingers crossed we can get there and everything goes to plan.”
On Baffert’s other runner Taiba, Dettori added, “He is also very solid. He has very little mileage on the clock and is a horse who I feel is still improving. He will be thereabouts as well.”
Moreira will partner the Noriyuki Hori-trained Cafe Pharoah (American Pharoah), a general 14-1 chance for the Saudi Cup, and said that the six-year-old has been filling him with confidence in track work this week.
“Being realistic, this is probably one of the strongest dirt races in the world,” Moreira said. “However, this horse has impressed me in track work and is taking me into the race with a bit of confidence. I know we are challenging good horses but I am faithful that this horse can give his best.”
The Saudi Cup meeting will be the biggest event that Dettori has ridden at since announcing his farewell tour over Christmas. Like Dettori, Moreira is planning on exiting the stage, but said that he is hopeful of riding for another two seasons before calling time on his career.
He said, “I don’t know if many people know but I have developed some health issue, which is pretty much a hip joint. People think I can just go there and get a hip replacement but it’s been recommended by the doctors not to do it right now. I am in a great deal of pain and, what’s best for me psychologically is to decide to do it [retire] on my terms. I’m not doing it right now and will continue to ride for another year and a half, maybe two years.”
Dettori, who was described as being an “idol” by Moreira, is more definitive on his retirement and explained that the Breeders’ Cup remains the most likely curtain call.
He said, “I gave myself a year to do my last farewell. I am in Saudi Arabia just because I was asked to be here, I’d usually be in Dubai, and after that I will do the European programme. Royal Ascot should be my last meeting in England and then possibly the Breeders’ Cup will be my last, or if something in the Melbourne Cup or other things materialise. But this year is my last. I will be 53 in December and I will finish on the top. It’s hard to choose the right moment and my heart wants to carry on but I want to have another life after racing.”
Asked if he thinks that he will change his mind about retiring this year, Dettori responded, “At the moment, the plan is to stop at the end of the season. I am sure I am going to be asked that question a million times before then.”
On the next chapter, he added, “I have my eye on working in the media. That is the route that I am thinking of taking. There are other things, like buying a few horses and becoming a bloodstock agent, things like that, but I will have a couple of months to sit back and look at the whole picture. Not training, no, I wouldn’t have the patience.”
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