Bob Baffert has a long list of big races he has conquered in America and the Middle East but the most valuable one, The Saudi Cup, has eluded him, including a pair of runner-up finishes and in the most frustrating of fashions.
This year, he brings Zedan Racing’s three-time Grade 1 winner Taiba (USA), as well as 2022 runner-up and Dubai World Cup winner Country Grammer (USA), who is co-owned by Zedan Racing, Commonwealth Thoroughbreds and WinStar Farm.
Taiba enters off a one-sided victory in the Malibu Stakes on December 26, the same Grade 1 Baffert’s 2021 runner-up Charlatan won in preparation for his Saudi Arabian sojourn. Last year, he won the Santa Anita Derby and Pennsylvania Derby – both Grade 1s – over The Saudi Cup’s 1800m distance.
“He just has so much quality,” Baffert said. “He will do what you want with him – he can go forward or come from off the pace – I don’t worry about him. He’ll fool you, because he’s such a lazy work horse in the mornings and is so laidback, but when he gets in that gate and the lights turn on – that’s when his light turns on.
Taiba Wins Malibu
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“Charlatan was a brilliant horse with just brilliant speed, but he got into a speed duel with Knicks Go, which cost him the race, but this horse has speed and stamina. The Gun Runners want to run longer, mostly, and this horse – while not as brilliant speed-wise as Charlatan – has that same class and he can go longer.
“He is tough to ride and that’s why Mike Smith had to really get him out and get him going last time in the Malibu. Once you put him into the race, he has the stamina, and that’s why, when he missed the break [when third] in the Breeders’ Cup [Classic], it hurt him. He wasn’t going to beat Flightline, but it cost him second.”
Country Grammer Comes in Off Win in San Antonio
Earlier on the Boxing Day card at Santa Anita, Country Grammer returned to the winners’ enclosure impressively in the Grade 2 San Antonio. Thus far, he is two-for-two with jockey Frankie Dettori in the saddle.
“I think both horses are doing really well and Jimmy [Barnes, assistant] is really happy with how they look there. Country Grammer is a horse who always runs his race. Frankie knows him really well and if the horse shows up, he’ll get the job done if Taiba doesn’t. This horse has never been better – he’s a better horse this year, I think – and he likes this track, which is really key.
“The Saudi Cup is one of the toughest races to win,” Baffert continued. “I’ve never won it and I really want to. It’s a long ship and a different surface and you have to keep them at their best the entire time.
“It’s a challenge and that’s what I love,” he concluded. “I’d love to win it for these owners. Amr [Zedan] and the Troutts [owners of WinStar Farm] and the rest of the connections have been so loyal to me and we have won some great races together – a Triple Crown with Justify – but to win this one would be an honor and I’m just blessed to have two good horses in the race.
“Everyone can really run in this race and it’s a tough field, but expectations are high and we have some owners with a love and passion for the horse, itself, and for horse racing, so we hope we can win it for them.”