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Defunded Back at Favorite Track for Awesome Again

Without 3-year-olds Arabian Knight  and Geaux Rocket Ride , the one-two finishers in the Sept. 2 Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar, the Sept. 30 Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita could be a scramble among the older horses who finished behind them.

Six of the nine horses in the Awesome Again competed in the Pacific Classic, all older runners except for 3-year-old Skinner . Slow Down Andy  finished best—third—beaten 1 1/2 lengths. However, Slow Down Andy hasn’t won in over a year, whereas Defunded , sixth in the Pacific Classic, took back-to-back graded races at Santa Anita this past spring.

Trainer Bob Baffert, elated at winning the Pacific Classic with Arabian Knight, was disappointed in Defunded’s effort.

“He’s not a beach guy,” Baffert said, a comment that sounds like a quip, but is also a shrewd analysis of Defunded’s form.

Not only did Defunded win the April 22 Californian Stakes (G2) and May 29 Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) at Santa Anita, he is the defending Awesome Again champ. In last year’s edition of the 1 1/8-mile event that includes a “Win & You’re In” berth for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Defunded defeated Baffert trainee Country Grammer   by 1 3/4 lengths, with Slow Down Andy another half-length back in third. 

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Defunded then added the Native Diver Stakes (G3) at Del Mar, but that race occurred at Del Mar’s fall meet. During the summer at Del Mar, Defunded is one for six, that victory coming in an allowance/optional claiming race two years ago.

Prior to this past summer at Del Mar, Defunded had the best string of races in his career. Beginning with last year’s Awesome Again, he started six times with four wins, one second, and one third.

“He is just improving and getting better,” Baffert said after the Gold Cup.

Defunded, a 5-year-old gelded son of Dialed In  , gets a rider change for the Awesome Again. Juan Hernandez has been aboard since early this year, but switches to Baffert’s other entrant, Preakness Stakes (G1) winner National Treasure , from post 7. Edwin Maldonado will ride Defunded from post 2. Maldonado has never lost aboard Defunded, having piloted him twice, in last year’s Awesome Again and Native Diver.

National Treasure and Skinner are the two 3-year-olds in the Awesome Again. They haven’t met since the Santa Anita Derby (G1), when Skinner finished third and National Treasure was fourth behind winner Practical Move . They also faced each other in the 2022 American Pharoah Stakes (G1), with National Treasure running second to Baffert-trained Cave Rock  and Skinner sixth.

Since the Santa Anita Derby, National Treasure won the Preakness and finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and fifth in the Travers Stakes (G1). This will be the first attempt against older runners for the son of Quality Road  .

Should either Defunded or National Treasure score in the Awesome Again, it would be Baffert’s fourth consecutive win in the race and ninth overall. Baffert has taken it twice with the same horse once before: Game On Dude  in 2011-12.

Skinner, a son of Curlin   trained by John Shirreffs, made his debut against older runners in the Pacific Classic. Though he has only won one race, he has placed in three graded races. Besides his third place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, he finished third in the March 4 San Felipe Stakes (G2) and third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) last September. He finished second in the July 8 Los Alamitos Derby.

Mike Smith will ride Skinner from post 4. It will be Smith’s second time aboard the colt, following the Los Alamitos Derby.

Though it has been a while since Slow Down Andy has won, he keeps such good company that he shouldn’t be dismissed. The California-bred son of Nyquist   has raced exclusively in graded races for more than a year, and his Pacific Classic third put him over $1 million in earnings. Regular pilot Mario Gutierrez will be back aboard for trainer Doug O’Neill from post 3.

Slow Down Andy and Baffert’s duo are each millionaires, as is Stilleto Boy , a 5-year-old gelded son of Shackleford  trained by Ed Moger Jr. Like Slow Down Andy, Stilleto Boy frequently adds to his bankroll through good efforts in graded events. 

Stilleto Boy has turned in both his best and worst efforts during this season. He captured the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 4, but was eased when last in the Pacific Classic after an awkward start, one of the rare times he failed to earn a check. Kent Desormeaux, Stilleto Boy’s pilot in his last four races, returns from the outside post.

Senor Buscador , a 5-year-old son of Mineshaft   to be ridden by Geovanni Franco from the rail, finished fourth in the Pacific Classic. Prior to that, he turned in a sparkling effort in winning the July 29 San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar, defeating Slow Down Andy by 1 1/4 lengths. Senor Buscador has previously won stakes at Sunland Park, Churchill Downs, and Remington Park for trainer Todd Fincher.

Entries: Awesome Again S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, September 30, 2023, Race 8

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/8m
  • Dirt
  • $300,000
  • 3 yo’s & up
  • 4:30 PM (local)

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