(Country Grammer, inside, wins the G3 Peter Pan / Photo by Adam Coglianese & Courtesy of NYRA)
From the NYRA Media Team:
Country Grammer dueled Caracaro in the stretch and held firm from the inside position, edging his rival by a neck to win the Grade 3, $100,000 Peter Pan for 3-year-olds on Thursday, Opening Day of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.
Owned by Paul Pompa, Jr., Country Grammer broke his maiden traveling nine furlongs at second asking in November at Aqueduct Racetrack for his only previous victory. After running fifth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in November at Gulfstream and third against allowance company on June 4 at Belmont, Country Grammer returned to 1 1/8 miles and responded with his first career stakes score. His win earned 50 qualifying points to the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in September at Churchill Downs.
Under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won the Belmont spring/summer meet riding title, Country Grammer stalked in fourth position as Mo Hawk led the nine-horse field through the opening quarter-mile in 23.24 seconds, the half in 48.13 and three-quarters in 1:12.35 on the fast main track.
Out of the final turn, Ortiz, Jr. angled Country Grammer near the rail, while Caracaro made a strong bid under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano from his outside. The duo linked up in the stretch for an exciting final furlong before the Chad Brown trainee prevailed, hitting the wire in a final time of 1:49.79.
“Irad gave him a beautiful ride. He took advantage of his inside post,” Brown said. “He trains that way and he’s a bit of a grinder. He’s a long-distance horse and we’ve been wanting to get him back out to a mile and an eighth.”
While Country Grammer earned points to go to Kentucky, Brown said he could be staying at Saratoga in the immediate future with a spot in the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers on August 8 a likely spot.
“Obviously, the logical thing is to point him to the Travers at a mile and a quarter,” Brown said. “I don’t think he’ll have a problem with the distance. We’ll have to see if he’s good enough. He hasn’t run many times and there’s room for improvement there. It’s a race we hoped to get him to, and I’ll talk to Mr. Pompa about it.”
Brown is coming off another title as the leading trainer in the Belmont spring/summer meet and has also captured the Saratoga training crowns the previous two summer meets. Though this year’s lid-lifter at the Spa was different without spectators in attendance in compliance with New York State guidelines, Brown said it’s always special to win at a track that dates its history to 1863.
“It’s really nice to win this race but definitely a bittersweet day when this beautiful place is empty where I grew up,” said Brown, a native of nearby Mechanicville, New York. “We’ll try to get through the meet and hold out hope that maybe it will open more during the meet, but there’s no guarantees about that. We’ll do the best we can and we’re grateful they’re running here. Hopefully, this is the only year we have to do this.
“NYRA has really done a good job,” he added. “It feels very safe on the backside training in the morning. It’s well organized and I think it’s a very safe environment.”
Off at 4-1, Country Grammer returned $10.20 on a $2 win wager. The bay colt is a son of Tonalist, who won the 2014 Belmont Stakes in upsetting California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid.
“He’s a fighter. He has a great trainer and he [Country Grammer] had something left at the end,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “Chad’s horses finish really good. I never gave up and I was lucky he came back.”
Caracaro, conditioned by Gustavo Delgado, was making his first stakes appearance and just his third start overall. The Uncle Mo colt finished 3 ¼ lengths in front of 8-5 favorite Mystic Guide for second, racking up 20 qualifying points for the runner-up effort.
“I had a beautiful trip. I like the way it set up. My horse usually likes to go to the lead and tries to dictate the pace,” Castellano said. “He broke a little sideways out of the gate. I decided not to rush and put him in the lead, and just let him develop himself. I think he got tired the last part of the race, he hadn’t run in such a long time. I’m very satisfied with how he did it today. He was only beat a little bit and I’m not disappointed at all. I’m excited for his future.”
Mystic Guide, trained by Michael Stidham, earned 10 points for third.
Celtic Striker finished fourth, garnering five points. Modernist, Chestertown, Candy Tycoon, Mo Hawk and Katzarelli completed the order of finish.
Handle on the 10-race Opening Day card was $19,100,297, a 21 percent increase over the 2019 Opening Day handle of 15,754,227.
Live racing resumes Friday with a 10-race card featuring the $85,000 De La Rose for older fillies and mares in Race 7 and the $85,000 Shine Again, also for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up, in Race 9. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.