Saudi Cup 2023: Which Baffert horse is faster?

Saudi Cup 2023: Which Baffert horse is faster?
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire composite - edited

As two high-class runners trained by Bob Baffert, Taiba and Country Grammer will attract plenty of attention in the Group 1, $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 25.

Overseas, Taiba currently stands as the favorite and Country Grammer looks like the second choice in most booking operations. The former possesses raw talent and makes his debut as a 4-year-old colt, while the latter starts as a 6-year-old with past Middle East success.

Given their age difference, a direct class comparison is difficult.

Taiba was limited to races against 3-year-olds most of last year. The only attempt against older horses came when he tried the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland and ended up a well-beaten third, 8 3/4 lengths behind Flightline.

Otherwise, Taiba owns Grade 1 wins in three races for 3-year-olds, the Santa Anita Derby, Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes. In the summer, he ran second in the Haskell Stakes (G1).

In addition, Taiba took a shot at the Kentucky Derby last May, but the suicidal fractions and traffic affected his effort. After chasing the pace in a close stalking position, Taiba could fare no better than 12th by 17 3/4 lengths.

Unlike Taiba, Country Grammer shows a typical 2022 schedule for a top older dirt horse trained by Baffert. To start his campaign, Country Grammer almost won the 2022 Saudi Cup last year before the long shot closer Emblem Road caught him.

One month later, Country Grammer won the Dubai World Cup (G1) by 1 3/4 lengths over Hot Rod Charlie in second. Life Is Good, the biggest American name in the race, found the distance a bit too long and faded to fourth late.

Country Grammer went on a break afterward. When he returned in July, Country Grammer ran second three straight times in a row in the San Diego Handicap (G2), Pacific Classic (G1) and Awesome Again Stakes (G1). Given Flightline took the Pacific Classic by 19 1/4 lengths, that loss is forgivable. 

The day after Christmas, Country Grammer put a stop to his losing streak by winning the San Antonio Stakes (G2) over Stilleto Boy in second.

Maybe the only way to compare Taiba and Country Grammer is through speed figures. In that case, Taiba might hold an edge over his older stablemate.

According to Daily Racing Form, Taiba earned Beyer Speed Figures of 106, 110, 108 and 101 in his last four starts. Taiba’s 110 Beyer came when he finished a distant third to Flightline in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Country Grammer earned Beyer Figures of 99, 97, 100 and 99 in his last four starts. The 100 came when Country Grammer finished second in the Pacific Classic to Flightline, who seemed to raise other horses by a few points. Without that runner-up to Flightline, he is in the high 90s. 

The concern is that Country Grammer showed declining speed figures as a 5-year-old horse. When Country Grammer took the 2021 Gold Cup (G1) at Santa Anita and ran second to Royal Ship in the Californian Stakes (G2) before that win, he posted big 106 and 108 Beyer Speed Figures.

On the other hand, Taiba posted higher Beyers on a consistent basis throughout his 3-year-old campaign and presumably enters his 4-year-old season as a stronger and more mature horse capable of better figures.

When handicapping the Saudi Cup, the declining speed figures shown by Country Grammer is one factor to think about in comparing Taiba and Country Grammer. Speed figures can fool handicappers at times, though. Perhaps Baffert wanted Country Grammer to peak during the Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup and has Country Grammer back to his best form.

But overall, it does seem that Taiba holds a slight advantage over Country Grammer, especially with his current higher speed figures, younger age and potential for stronger form in his 4-year-old season.

With that said, bettors will need to accept a low price for this opinion if they bet Taiba.

As always, the best plan is to watch the tote board and decide whether the low price on Taiba is worth taking. If Country Grammer floats up enough, he might start to look attractive even with lower speed figures.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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