Connections celebrate Saturday after Country Grammer wins the Dubai World Cup. Photo courtesy of Dubai Racing Club
March 26 (UPI) -- It was an all-American exacta finish in Saturday's $12 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup, with Country Grammer posting the upset win for embattled trainer Bob Baffert while the favorite, Life Is Good, found the 1 1/4 miles just a bit too far.
The race actually had an international flair, too, as Italian-born Frankie Dettori rode Country Grammer to the dramatic score over runner-up Hot Rod Charlie and one of Japan's top dirt runners, Chuwa Wizard, was along to take third.
Americans Life is Good and Midnight Bourbon settled for fourth and fifth.
Life Is Good, winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar in his last start, showed the way into the stretch in the World Cup and looked for all the world like the winner. But, in his first try beyond 1 1/8 miles, he shortened stride just past mid-stretch.
Country Grammer was rolling on the outside at that point, got the lead inside 100 meters and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Hot Rod Charlie, who looked done at mid-stretch, found another gear and edged Chuwa Wizard for third. Life Is Good wound up 2 1/4 lengths back of the winner.
Country Grammer came to Dubai off an agonizing second-place finish in the $20 million Saudi Cup a month earlier in Riyadh, caught near the finish by a long shot local runner
Emblem Road. Before that, he had been idle for nearly nine months.
It was the fourth World Cup win for Dettori and Baffert, who is embroiled in legal and regulatory action in the United States that have forced him to relinquish some of his best horses, including Kentucky Derby hopefuls, to other trainers. Still, winning part-owner Amr Zedan sang Baffert's praises.
"He has come here in the care of the best trainer in the world in Bob Baffert," Zedan said. "Deep down in my gut, I knew we had a shot. ... Results speak louder than words. A trainer of that caliber is bound to produce such results. I am just dedicating this race to him."
Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, which is part-owner of both Country Grammer and Life Is Good, said no firm plans are in place for Country Grammer.
"We'll regroup with Bob," he said. "Bob Baffert is a heck of a horse trainer."
Hot Rod Charlie's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said his colt "had a great run and congratulations to Bob Baffert for getting his horse ready the way he did. We're super proud, [assistant] Leandro Mora and all the guys have been here the whole time and they've done a great job.
"We wanted to win, of course, but we're super proud and mid-race we were thinking it just wasn't Charlie's day. He then re-engaged and got up for second so it was a great night."
The World Cup was the capper on an evening that saw Japanese runners capture five of the eight Thoroughbred races on the card, including the Grade II UAE Derby and a dead-heat victory in the Grade I Dubai Turf.
The Derby win earned Crown Pride 100 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, ensuring him a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate should his owner opt to go. He is among the 312 3-year-olds nominated to the Triple Crown series.
"I want to go to the Kentucky Derby," trainer Koichi Shintani said. "I just have to convince the owners to do it."
Saudi Derby winner Pinehurst, also trained by Baffert, was the favorite in the UAE Derby, but faded badly turning for home and was eased.