SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – An opportunity to run at a desired distance, in the race he’s wanted to win more than any other but has yet to add to his already lengthy list of accomplishments, was too tempting to pass up for trainer Chad Brown.
The Mechanicville, N.Y. native will send out Paul Pompa, Jr.’s Country Grammer in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers for 3-year-olds, the highlight of both the Saratoga season and a loaded 12-race program featuring five graded-stakes worth $1.95 million in purses.
Country Grammer will be the 11th Travers starter for Brown, his best finish coming with Gift Box, who ran fourth in 2016. Growing up a half-hour south of Saratoga, where his family has gathered at the same backyard picnic table on Travers Day for decades, Brown is hoping to break through in a year when coronavirus protocols will prevent fans from attending.
“I was thinking about that; if I finally win and nobody’s here, does it count?” Brown said. “It’s so depressing to not have the fans here, but at least they have the meet going. NYRA’s done a super job, at least from the horsemen’s side, to make it feel comfortable as they can. The racing product’s been super, as you can see from the wagering, and the surface is extremely safe. The Travers will be a little different, but we’ll take it if we can get it.”
Country Grammer enters the 1 ¼-mile Travers off a neck victory over fellow Mid-Summer Derby aspirant Caracaro in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan on July 16, opening day at Saratoga. He has never gone less than a mile in any of his five races, and Brown said he has been relishing the chance to go further.
“Two turns is his thing, and we’ve been wanting to get a mile and a quarter all along,” Brown said. “Hopefully this horse will get the distance. I’m confident he can. He’s going to have to take a step forward in this race and hope a couple of the top contenders can’t go that far.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride Country Grammer from post 2 in a field of eight led by even-money program favorite Tiz the Law, the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes winner this year, and Grade 3-winning California shipper Uncle Chuck.
“I prefer more time in between races with my horses, but I thought it was a great opportunity to take another shot at the Travers. It’s a little bit of a shorter field than normal and the Kentucky Derby, some people waiting for that,” Brown said. “It’s a unique year to maybe give it a shot with a horse that keeps improving. Even though we’re running on short rest, I think the reward is probably a little bigger than the risk.”
Prior to the Peter Pan, Country Grammer ran third in a 1 1/16-mile allowance on June 4 at Belmont Park, his first start since finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in February at Gulfstream Park in his sophomore debut. He debuted on the Belmont turf last fall before breaking his maiden second time out going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct.
“We just drew a line through the race at Belmont. He’s really never even trained well there. That’s why I debuted him on the turf, actually, the first start of his life. It’s something I wasn’t really looking to do when I got him in,” Brown said. “He looked like a dirt horse but he just didn’t train well enough so I took a shot and he didn’t run good on the turf. When I got him over to Aqueduct, anywhere away from Belmont, his races have been good on the dirt.”
Brown has been pleased with how Country Grammer has taken to Saratoga’s main track, newly refurbished for 2020, in both his training and racing.
“It’s definitely more similar to Aqueduct than it is Belmont. It reminds me of Keeneland, too, a little bit. This new surface has been great,” Brown said. “It’s my 13th year of training racehorses on my own, and this is one the best racetracks I’ve ever trained on or raced on.”
NYRA Press Release
Photo: Country Grammer in a work on the main track at Saratoga. Credit: Coglianese Photos/Janet Garaguso