Embattled Baffert earns record-tying 8th Gold Cup victory

ARCADIA, Calif. — Country Grammer edged Royal Ship by a head to win the $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, giving embattled trainer Bob Baffert his record-tying eighth victory in the Grade 1 race at Santa Anita.

Baffert tied fellow Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham, who won his eighth and last Gold Cup with Ferdinand in 1987.

Ridden by Flavien Prat for the first time, Country Grammer ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.23 on Monday. Sent off as the 9-5 favorite in a field of seven 3-year-olds, the colt paid $5.60, $3.20 and $2.60.

“It looked like he was beat today, but he kicked it in,” Baffert said. “It’s exciting. He ran a big race last time and just got beat. He was really ready to go today and the distance was the key. He got it done with a lot of class and determination.”

Baffert has been temporarily banned from stabling and racing horses at Churchill Downs and New York’s three major tracks. Medina Spirit gave Baffert his record seventh Kentucky Derby victory on May 1 and a week later the trainer announced the colt had tested positive for an excessive level of a steroid. Kentucky officials are awaiting the results of split-sample testing. If the second sample comes back positive, they’ve said Medina Spirit would be disqualified.

Royal Ship returned $4.20 and $2.80. Express Train was another 4 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $2.40 to show as the 2-1 second choice.

Country Grammer was about a half-length off pacesetter Brown Storm a half-mile from the finish. Country Grammer gained the lead mid-way around the far turn but was immediately engaged by Royal Ship to his outside, who appeared to be in control a furlong from the wire. Country Grammer battled back through the stretch to get his head in front.

Country Grammer ran his first six races for New York-based trainer Chad Brown. He made his debut for Baffert on April 17, finishing second in the Californian at Santa Anita.

The victory, worth $180,000, increased Country Grammer’s career earnings to $377,320, with three wins in eight starts for owner WinStar Farm LLC.