Country Grammer wins Hollywood Gold Cup for Bob Baffert at Santa Anita

Smooth Like Strait, with Umberto Rispoli aboard, wins the Grade I $300,000 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita Park.
Smooth Like Strait, with Umberto Rispoli aboard, wins the Grade I $300,000 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita Park on Monday.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

The one thing horse racing can always use to keep the public interested is a rivalry. It may have discovered one Monday in the Grade 1 $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Royal Ship and Country Grammer, who finished a tight 1-2 in the Grade 2 Californian on April 17, put on a repeat performance in the Gold Cup. Only this time it was Country Grammer winning by a head to make up for the neck loss he had in the Californian.

The pair ran side-by-side down the stretch with Royal Ship taking a brief lead near the top of the stretch in the 1 ¼-mile race. By deep stretch it appeared Country Grammer had the clear edge but Royal Ship made one last push but came up short.

It was the eighth Gold Cup win for trainer Bob Baffert, who also won last year with Improbable. Baffert has been keeping a low profile since word of Medina Spirit’s positive test for the anti-inflammatory betamethasone during the Kentucky Derby became public on May 9. But, it hasn’t slowed his trips to the winner’s circle. It was Baffert’s fifth stakes win since the Derby.

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“Elliot Walden and WinStar bought him to bring to California because they figured 1 ¼ mile was his distance,” Baffert said. “His form on the dirt was really good last year. It looked like he was beat today, but he kicked it in. … It’s exciting. He ran a big race last time and just got beat. He was really ready to go [Monday] and I think the distance was the key. He got it done with a lot of class and determination.”

Country Grammer, ridden by Flavien Prat, paid $5.60, $3.20 and $2.60. Royal Ship was second and Express Train finished third.

Monday’s card was the final series of Grade 1 races for the meeting, which concludes June 20.

In the Grade 1 $300,000 Shoemaker Mile, Smooth Like Strait ($3.40 to win) went gate-to-wire to win the turf race by 1 ½ lengths. It gave the 4-year-old colt an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar on Nov. 6. He is trained by Michael McCarthy, who will saddle Preakness winner Rombauer in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Umberto Rispoli was the rider.

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Maxim Rate ($29.80) pulled an upset in the Grade 1 $300,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Simon Callaghan was the winning trainer and Juan Hernandez the jockey.

Agamemnon, a 4-year-old gelding, suffered a catastrophic injury in Monday’s third race, a six-furlong allowance turf race for Cal-breds. He was near the 16th-pole when he suffered an injury to one of his front legs. The damage was so severe he was immediately euthanized. It was the ninth death at Santa Anita since the season started on Dec. 27 and the seventh while racing. It was the first fatality since April 19. Agamemnon was trained by Ron McAnally. It was the eighth lifetime start for the gelding, who had won two races and $70,800.