Country Grammer Seeks Dubai World Cup Repeat

It very much looks like Japan against the world in the $12 million Dubai World Cup March 25 at Meydan Racecourse.

Eight of the 15 entries are from Japan and they include some of that nation’s most accomplished runners, both on turf and on the dirt, the surface of the 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4 miles) World Cup.

Against that is a thin line of stars from the rest of the world, including last year’s winner, Bob Baffert trainee Country Grammer, the 2022 Saudi Cup winner Emblem Road, and Algiers, a Simon and Ed Crisford trainee who has starred during the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Three local runners and an Argentine-bred coming off a win at Gulfstream Park complete the field for the crown jewel of Dubai’s biggest night of racing.

While the sheer size of the Japanese contingent is imposing, none of the eight runners has a standout record.

Panthalassa won this year’s $20 million Saudi Cup, narrowly defeating Country Grammer in only his second start on dirt, but could be questionable going an extra 200 meters. Last year, he won the Dubai Turf in a dead heat with Lord North, and trainer Yoshito Yahagi said it was a tough call whether to go for a repeat in that race or stick to the dirt after the Saudi Cup.

“Given he won the Saudi Cup, we felt he deserved his chance,” Yahagi said. “Why not? The dirt is more testing than in Riyadh but he is getting used to it.”

Panthalassa won the Saudi Cup virtually gate to wire and just did hold off Country Grammer in the final strides. He faces an extra furlong in Dubai.

“Of course I am worried about the extra distance,” Yahagi said. “But I have to trust him and how he will manage, as well as our jockey, Yutaka Yoshida.”

The tactics of the rematch were scrambled by the barrier draw as Panthalassa got the 15 gate and Country Grammer landed in 14. Panthalassa’s game is speed while Country Grammer last year chased down the leaders to win the World Cup.

“That’s all right,” said Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes about the draw. “It’s a mile and a quarter race and we’ll leave it up to Frankie Dettori and he’ll work something out. We’re lucky to have him to ride all three of our horses here.”

Yahagi, before drawing for Panthalassa’s spot, said the gate didn’t matter and didn’t bat an eyelash when the 15 post was revealed.

Crown Pride also ranks high among the Japanese contingent, in no small part because the Reach the Crown 4-year-old won last year’s U.A.E. Derby over the course. He went on from that to finish 13th in the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve after chasing a suicidal early pace. After a break, he was second in three straight Japanese dirt heats and got home fifth in the Saudi Cup in his last start. He drew gate 12.

“After the race, we will be hopeful that stall number 12 will be the lucky one for us,” said assistant trainer Masafumi Matsuda. “We will go over the tactics with the jockey. But Crown Pride absolutely loves Dubai so we hope it will be lucky for us.”

Cafe Pharoah is a two-time winner of the Group 1 February Stakes, a one-mile affair on the dirt, but stayed the course to finish third in the Saudi Cup in his last start. Joao Moreira retains the ride and starts from gate 10.

Several of the other Japanese runners have posted mixed results while switching surfaces.

Vela Azul won the Group 1 2022 Japan Cup on the grass but was less successful earlier in his career on Japanese dirt courses. Jun Light Bolt moved to dirt after a middling career on turf and had three straight wins, including the Group 1 Champions Cup before finishing seventh in the Saudi Cup. T O Keynes won the 2021 Champions Cup but has been unimpressive since.

Geoglyph, winner of last year’s Satsuki Sho (Group 1 Japanese Thousand Guineas), hasn’t won since but was sixth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup in December and fourth in the Saudi Cup. Ushba Tesoro seems the longest chance of the lot.

Form trails off a bit through the rest of the field.

Algiers drew gate 13 for his 13-year-old owner, Hamdan Sultan Ali Alsabouli, who said the draw “is fine but I was hoping to get 5 or 6.” Co-trainer Simon Crisford noted, “He has drawn wide in both prep runs and so it’s no real concern.”

Of course, the competition will be much stiffer than he faced in winning the first two rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge – both by wide margins.

Emblem Road was a massive long shot when he rallied down the center of the King Abdulaziz Racecourse track to defeat Country Grammer in the 2022 Saudi Cup. He did not contest the Dubai World Cup and returned this year to finish sixth in the Saudi Cup, beaten 4 1/4 lengths.

Lining up for the locals are Salute the Soldier, Bendoog, and Remorse, the latter two trained by local star Bhupat Seemar. Finishing out the field is Chilean group 1 winner Super Corinto, who hasn’t raced since a December 2022 allowance optional claiming win at Gulfstream Park.