Defunded is the surprise Bob Baffert winner in the Awesome Again Stakes
Defunded, who had never won a graded stakes race, took the lead early and wouldn’t give it up over the 1-1/8-mile race to win by 1¾ lengths and get an all-expenses-paid entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
All eyes were on stablemate Country Grammer, who finished second to Flightline a month ago in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He won the $12-million Dubai World Cup this year and bettors installed him as the even-money favorite. He didn’t run a bad race, finishing second. He just couldn’t catch Defunded and jockey Edwin Maldonado.
Santa Anita has seen an uptick in the horses available to run in its Autumn meeting. The size of the horse population has been a problem for California tracks.
“Defunded ran so well here before and when we got to Del Mar, he just had a meltdown in the paddock and didn’t behave himself,” Baffert said. “[Saturday] he was perfect. They all loaded into the gate perfect, and I give Edwin a lot of the credit because he is such a great speed rider. I told him I’d thrown him a nice horse when we got up [to Santa Anita] and he rode a perfect race.”
It was the first Grade 1 win for the 39-year-old rider, who has been in more than 12,000 races over a two-decade-long career.
“Bob told me I had a great shot in this race, so I put him on the lead,” Maldonado said. “And when Bob says you have a shot, you have a shot. … At this point of my career, I was due for a big race. It came through. What better time than the second day at Santa Anita? A good time.”
Defunded paid $12.00, $4.60 and $3.40. Slow Down Andy was third, followed by Express Train, Tripoli, Royal Ship, High Connection and Azul Coast.
It was the biggest card of the 18-day autumn meeting at Santa Anita with five graded stakes.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the return of Forbidden Kingdom in the Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. He was very much in the Kentucky Derby picture after winning the San Felipe Stakes by 5¾ lengths. But he faltered in the Santa Anita Derby and it was later discovered he had a health issue that caused him to be removed from training.
Whatever he had in March, Forbidden Kingdom didn’t have it Saturday. He was a well-beaten fifth in the six-horse field, after taking the lead for about half the six-furlong race.
The winner was Howbeit in a less-than-a-nose victory over 8-year-old gelding C Z Rocket. Howbeit was the fourth favorite and paid $14.40 to win for trainer Mark Glatt.
“I think he jumped past the wire and I wasn’t too sure I was in front,” winning jockey Mike Smith said. “We needed just every bit of that race to hang on and win.”
In the Grade 2 $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship, Masteroffoxhounds ($6.20 to win) went gate to wire to win by a neck. Starting on the downhill turf course, the 5-year-old won for the first time since Feb. 6, 2021, as jockey Umberto Rispoli hustled the horse out of the gate, gained about a three-length lead through the backstretch and then held off Dicey Mo Chara for the win in the 1¼-mle race. Trainer Phil D’Amato was a likely winner in that he had half of the entrants in the six-horse field.
Beyond Brilliant ($3.80), the even-money winner of the Grade 2 $200,000 City of Hope Mile Stakes, also went gate to wire to win by three-quarters of a length. It was his second graded stakes win this year in four starts for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Victor Espinoza.
Taiba won the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths. The 3-year-old, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, may go to the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
Glatt also picked up a win when longshot Whatmakessammyrun ($38.00) won the Grade 2 $200,000 Eddie D Stakes down the 6½-furlong downhill turf course. He took the lead after the dirt crossover and held on to win by three-quarters of a length under Joe Bravo.
Santa Anita has another Breeders’ Cup qualifying race Sunday, the five-furlong Speakeasy Stakes on the turf. The winner gets an entry in the Juvenile Turf race.
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