SARATOGA SPRINGS — If nothing else, Country Grammer will go down as perhaps one of the most misspelled names in horse racing.
Besides the quirky spelling, Grade III Peter Pan winner Country Grammer is making a name for himself simply as a racehorse, and would really stamp himself in the 3-year-old male division if he were to beat Tiz the Law in the Travers on Saturday.
Owner Paul Pompa Jr. said his sons named the son of Tonalist after a song by Nelly, although the rapper spells it with an “-ar” and the horse’s name was submitted to The Jockey Club with an “-er.”
Even trainer Chad Brown’s barn has occasionally gotten it wrong, but Pompa can point to another horse name that was a little bit of a head shaker.
“I hope we get lucky like American Pharoah by misspelling it, you know?” he said with a laugh on Tuesday.
The Travers field will be drawn on Wednesday, and Country Grammer will lead the top three finishers from the Peter Pan, which was moved to Saratoga from Belmont Park for the first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the stakes calendar. Caracaro finished a neck behind him on July 16, opening day, and it was another 3 1/4 lengths back to Mystic Guide.
“I’m not going to run any horse in any race, including the Travers, unless I think we have some chance in the race,” Brown said on Saturday morning, after Country Grammer breezed four furlongs in a sharp 47.60.
“I think the horse earned it. Looking at the schedule initially, if you asked me that, I would have figured, well, everything’s going to have to go just right, you have to win that race and then come back in three weeks and all that. But he did it, so … here we are. It doesn’t look like a big field. So there’s an opportunity there to test him out at a mile and a quarter.”
Based on his breeding — Tonalist won the 2014 Belmont Stakes at a mile and a half, spoiling California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid — Brown and Pompa believe Country Grammer will handle the Travers distance well.
A May foal who perhaps is still playing catch-up with the rest of the division, it took him two tries to break his maiden last fall, then he opened the 2020 season with a fifth by nine lengths to Ete Indien in the Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in February.
“We think that if he stays healthy, which is the key, that he’s going to get bigger and stronger, and he’s going to enjoy the mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter,” said Pompa, who campaigned 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown.
The COVID-19 probably has been an advantage for Country Grammer. It’s very hard to set up a Grade I campaign with any horse. Their shelf life is so short. “If you can campaign a horse for a year and a half, you’re very lucky. So maybe the next couple races for Country Grammer will be a defining moment for him.”
“He’s going to have to step forward again,” Brown said. “I wish I had a little bit more time. He’s a late-blooming horse. I always thought he wanted to run a mile and a quarter, so that’ll work in his favor. We just hope that he steps forward and that some of these other horses that are coming into the race running a mile and a quarter for the first time maybe don’t want to run that far. That’s our hope.
“I think he’s considerably better [since the Fountain of Youth]. He didn’t run bad in that race. He had a bit of a bad trip, actually. But I think the horse is really improving. You look at him, that horse is carrying a lot more weight on him, and he’s grown up a bit. He’s a May foal, anyway, so I think he probably was always going mature as time went on. He’s good as he’s ever looked.”
After the Fountain of Youth, Country Grammer was third in allowance at Belmont won by Tap It to Win, who was second in the Grade I Allen Jerkens at Saratoga on Saturday.
In the Peter Pan, he and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. used a stalking trip on the inside to get in position for a momentum swing coming off the turn.
Country Grammer battled with Caracaro inside the eighth pole before getting in front inside the sixteenth to win be a neck.
“He took his race really well,” Brown said. “Obviously, it was a hard race for him, to fight back and really lay it on the line to win. But he didn’t seem too knocked out by it. He’s held his weight, and actually I think he’s gained weight. He looks good, and showing all the things you like to see running a horse back on short rest, especially a 3-year-old that’s still developing. He showed me all the signs so far.”
“I think it was a breakout performance,” Pompa said. “We’ve been waiting for that from him. We stopped on him a couple times because of the COVID. There was a gap between the maiden win and the Fountain of Youth, and then another gap between the Fountain of Youth and the allowance try at Belmont. But then he got into a steady work pattern, and it was Chad’s call. Chad made the decision. He always liked the horse and wanted to take a shot in the Peter Pan, and he ran big.”
His connections hope he’ll be “righteous, above the law” — as in Tiz the Law — on Saturday.
“My sons are into music and movies and have made some short films and are working on a feature film,” Pompa said. “And one of their guys that they listened to a lot when they were growing up was Nelly, and they thought it would be a cool name to name a colt Country Grammer.
“It doesn’t matter, Grammer, Grammar …”
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