By Sid Fernando
Before the G1 Dubai World Cup, Country Grammer (Tonalist) was already a Grade l winner in North America, but that race that he won on May 31, 2021, the Gl Hollywood Gold Cup S. at Santa Anita, was worth only $180,000 to the winner.
Since then, Country Grammer has made only two starts, both abroad and both fruitful: he was second in the G1 Saudi Cup, a $20-million race in Riyadh on Feb. 26, earning $3.5 million; and he won the $12-million Dubai World Cup Saturday, collecting almost $7 million, giving the strapping colt who races for the partnership of Zedan Racing, WinStar and Commonwealth Thoroughbreds total earnings of $10,837,320.
Country Grammer's prize money from the Middle East has catapulted his Lane's End-based sire Tonalist from the back of the field to second place on North America's general sires list with year-to-date progeny earnings of $11,772,495, behind leader and fellow Lane's End sire Quality Road's $13,392,856. Quality Road himself was the beneficiary of a $10-million Middle Eastern boost, as it was his son Emblem Road who won the Saudi Cup from Country Grammer.
For context, Spendthrift's mighty Into Mischief, the leading sire of 2019, 2020, and 2021, sits in third place at the moment with progeny earnings of $6,779,549.
Quality Road and Into Mischief are top-class stallions and are fully booked; the former stands for $150,000 and the latter for $250,000. Tonalist, in contrast, isn't a proven horse, has only three crops racing (not including current 2-year-olds), and has a modest $10,000 fee this year, so he stands to benefit the most from the accumulated earnings of Country Grammer with half the breeding season still ahead of him.
In light of Country Grammer's exploits, a re-examination of Tonalist reveals a horse with impeccable credentials and one who has potential to separate himself from others standing in his fee range. For one, he's a son of the outstanding Tapit, who is establishing himself as a sire maker, notably with Constitution; he's a Classic winner at 12 furlongs (Gl Belmont S.) who also won Grade l races at 10 furlongs (Jockey Club Gold Cup) and eight furlongs (Cigar Mile); he's a standout physical specimen with significant scope and size, attributes he's clearly passed on to 5-year-old Country Grammer, a member of his first crop; and he's from the immediate family of Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, which is to say from the blue-blooded Toll Booth branch of Missy Baba, his fourth dam and also the fourth dam of A.P. Indy. Because Tapit is an A.P Indy-line sire, inbreeding to Missy Baba lurks in the background of Tonalist, too.
Essentially, Tonalist ticks every box, except for perhaps early maturity, and he is the sire of eight black-type winners so far through his first three crops. Among them is the good first-crop filly Tonalist's Shape, who won her first five starts from late September at two to late February at three, when she took the Gll Davona Dale S. at Gulfstream. It's worth noting that both she and Country Grammer are bred on the potent Tapit/Storm Cat cross.
The type of horse that Country Grammer has developed into is exactly what you'd expect from Tonalist, and this could actually benefit the stallion moving forward. Early maturity, which is prized at 2-year-old sales, isn't exactly what Tonalist is about–he only made one start at two himself and was unplaced, though Country Grammer did sell and win at two. But Tonalist does have the potential to deliver a late fall 2-year-old or an early spring 3-year-old with the potential of staying 10 furlongs, which is what's increasingly sought after these days as the most promising Classics contenders' schedules are delayed to coincide with the high-points races for the Gl Kentucky Derby that are held in March and April. And continued development through four and five can have its own lucrative benefits these days, as Country Grammer has so aptly shown.
Bred by Scott and Debbie Pierce at their Omega Farm in Kentucky, Country Grammer was a $60,000 Keeneland September yearling and a $450,000 OBS April 2-year-old. He made his debut as an October 2-year-old at Belmont at a mile for trainer Chad Brown and owner Paul Pompa Jr., running fourth. He returned at Aqueduct in November to win his next start, a 9-furlong maiden special, which is as far as 2-year-olds are asked to run in North America and a strong indicator that 10 furlongs would be well within reach at three and beyond.
Aside from Tonalist, Country Grammer's pedigree contains some internal structural elements that indicated this as well. For instance, he is inbred 3×4 to Pleasant Colony and 5×5 to Nijinsky –two strong markers for stamina in pedigrees.
Moreover, his tail-female line goes back to filly Triple Crown winner Chris Evert, Country Grammer's fifth dam; Chris Evert won the GI Coaching Club American Oaks back in 1974 when that race was contested at 12 furlongs and held more prestige than the now-Gl Kentucky Oaks, which was a Grade ll race at that time at a mile and a sixteenth.
Juddmonte got into this family when it purchased Chris Evert's Nijinsky daughter Nijinsky Star–Country Grammer's fourth dam–for $700,000 at Keeneland November in 1987, carrying a foal by Conquistador Cielo, and the internationally renowned farm shaped this branch of Chris Evert that leads to Country Grammer.
This family includes, among others, the Juddmonte multiple Grade l winners Sightseek, by Distant View, and Tates Creek, by Rahy, both fillies produced from the Nureyev stakes winner Viviana, a daughter of Nijinsky Star.
Viviana is a full sister to Willstar, Country Grammer's third dam. Like Viviana, Willstar also produced a highest-level filly for Juddmonte in G1 Prix de la Foret winner Etoile Montante, a daughter of Miswaki. Also like Viviana, Willstar was mated to Juddmonte homebred Distant View, producing Prima Centauri, Country Grammer's second dam and a mare that's closely related to the aforementioned Sightseek.
Prima Centauri, unplaced in two starts, was culled by Juddmonte in 2001 and eventually came into the hands of Dixiana, which paid $270,000 for her at Keeneland November in 2005. She was carrying a colt by Forestry, who must have physically impressed Dixiana as a weanling, because the mare was bred back to Forestry in 2007, producing Arabian Song, Country Grammer's dam, in 2008.
The Forestry full brother to Arabian Song made $425,000 as a Keeneland September yearling but never raced. Arabian Song sold for only $40,000 at Keeneland September to Rabbah Bloodstock, but won one race from six starts, a $40,000 maiden claimer at Churchill.
The Pierces acquired Arabian Song after her racing career and bred her first five foals. Among them is the 4-year-old Runhappy Grade lll-placed filly Joyful Cadence, who'd sold for $90,000 as a weanling at Keeneland November in 2018 before making $235,000 as a yearling at Keeneland the next September. The Pierces also sold Arabian Song, in foal to Wicked Strong, at Keeneland November in 2018 for $5,000, to Abdul Aziz Al-Ateeqi, who sent the mare to Saudi Arabia. The Wicked Strong foal is a 3-year-old filly named Gharz (KSA), who is placed in four starts.
Country Grammer Ownership
The topsy-turvy auction history and ownership changes of this immediate family that include Saudi Arabian involvement extend to Country Grammer as well.
After Pompa died in October of 2020, his stock was dispersed at Keeneland January in 2021. Country Grammer, who, as noted earlier, had sold for $450,000 as a 2-year-old, had gone on to win the Glll Peter Pan S. at three and was among those in the sale. Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar, knew of the colt's talents as he'd been in training at the farm, and he was able to surprisingly purchase the colt for the bargain price of $110,000 at the dispersal.
Sent to Bob Baffert, who'd trained Justify for WinStar and partners and had Into Mischief's Life Is Good as the 3-year-old stable star for WinStar and CHC Inc., Country Grammer blossomed last year to win the Hollywood Gold Cup S.
However, both Country Grammer and Life Is Good were transferred later to Todd Pletcher after “Bob got in the penalty box” after the Medina Spirit controversy at Churchill, Walden explained by phone Monday, after arriving in Miami from Dubai. Walden said that Country Grammer was unable to start for Pletcher, however, after sustaining a minor ankle injury and was sent back to WinStar to recover. He was then sent back to Baffert.
Somewhere around this time the colt's ownership changed as well. First Commonwealth, which sells microshares in horses, purchased 30% of Country Grammer, leaving WinStar a 70% stake, until Saudi Arabian Amr Zedan offered to buy the entire horse.
“Amr Zedan is great for the industry and so easy to deal with,” Walden said. “He just told us to put a price on the horse, and we agreed to sell 50% of the horse to him, so we–WinStar and Commonwealth–paired down our interests to bring him aboard.”
And the rest is interesting history. Flying the same Zedan silks as Medina Spirit, Country Grammer gave Amr Zedan some revenge on Life Is Good–the same colt Medina Spirit had chased early in his career.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.
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