Trainer Bob Baffert picks up a first and second on Saudi Cup Day

Horse trainer Bob Baffert leans against a barrier at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Bob Baffert picked up a win in the Saudi Derby and a second-place finish in the Saudi Cup with his horses on Saturday.
(Associated Press)

After a tough week in which trainer Bob Baffert saw the disqualification of Medina Spirit from the Kentucky Derby, followed by a denial by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to stay his suspension, the Hall of Fame trainer showed his continued impact in the sport by picking up a win in the $1.5-million Saudi Derby and a strong second in the $20-million Saudi Cup.

Saudi-based horse Emblem Road was the surprise winner of the world’s richest race at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with a late charge on the outside to beat Baffert’s Country Grammer by about half a length. Emblem Road paid $229.20 to win in U.S. betting pools. Gambling is not allowed in Saudi Arabia.

Country Grammer, running after a 270-day layoff, was in a fierce stretch battle with Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon when Emblem Road snuck by on the far outside. Midnight Bourbon finished third.


The Saudi Cup contender Country Grammer gallops in the morning track work at the King Abdulaziz racetrack.
Country Grammer gallops during a morning workout in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Friday.
(Martin Dokoupil / Associated Press)

“He’s such a game horse,” said Baffert about Country Grammer, watching the race from Arcadia. “It’s too bad he didn’t see that other horse coming. But we’re still elated about things. That last 100 yards is so tough. It’s frustrating to be there and have it snatched from us. It was a great race with a lot of good horses in there.”

Mandaloun, who was running his first race since he was named winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby after the disqualification of Medina Spirit, finished an unimpressive ninth in the 1 1/8-mile, 14-horse race. Last year’s Saudi Cup winner, Mishriff, finished last.

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Medina Spirit was taken down as winner of the Kentucky Derby after he tested positive for betamethasone, a legal anti-inflammatory that is banned on race day. Baffert’s attorneys argued before the KHRC that the rule only applies to the drug being administered by injection into a joint, not topically, which is how they say Medina Spirit had the medication in his system. Baffert was also hit with a 90-day suspension, in which a stay is normally granted while a case is on appeal, but was denied. Baffert’s attorneys plan litigation on both issues.

Baffert’s Saudi Cup day win came from Pinehurst in the one-mile Saudi Derby. The 3-year-old colt went to the lead early and showed a lot of determination down the stretch to win by about 1 1/4 lengths.

“I give a lot of credit to [jockey Flavien] Prat,” Baffert said. “He rode cool. He didn’t panic, he knew about the stretch. He rode two brilliant races and just came up short in one.

“It was nice. There is no better feeling than knowing that you prepped them right and everything went well. It’s exciting.”

Emblem Road with jockey Wigberto Ramos wins the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup.
Emblem Road gallops to victory in the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup on Saturday.
(Martin Dokoupil / Associated Press)

Pinehurst paid $4.40 to win in U.S. betting markets.

Both horses are expected to stay in the Middle East and run in races on Dubai World Cup day on March 26.

However, the day was not all good for Baffert as Newgrange, the favorite in the $1 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, finished a well-beaten sixth after having nothing left in the stretch despite being in a good position to take the lead. The race was won by Un Ojo, who paid $152.80 to win. Ethereal Road, trained by Wayne Lukas, was second.

Santa Anita fatality: Warren’s Showtime, a 5-year-old mare, was euthanized Saturday morning at Santa Anita after suffering an injury during a morning workout. The winner of seven stakes races was doing a five-furlong run when in the stretch, just past the quarter pole, the exercise rider felt something go wrong and was unseated from the horse. The horse was immediately attended to but found to have a a broken left-front ankle and the decision was made to euthanize her. Craig Lewis was her trainer.

Santa Anita has had a remarkably safe meeting so far. This was the second fatality at the track since the meeting opened on Dec. 26. By comparison, in the 2019 crisis year, Santa Anita had recorded 19 racing or training deaths by late February. A reduction in racing, a smaller horse population, and a multitude of safety measures instituted by Stronach Group, owner of the track, are likely reasons for the mass reduction of deaths.