Defunded would not help closers in Breeders' Cup Classic

Defunded would not help closers in Breeders' Cup Classic
Photo: Benoit Photo

Defunded captured the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita last Saturday for his first Grade 1 win in 11 starts. He rebounded off two off-the-board efforts at Del Mar over the summer and clinched his spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, if the connections choose to run there.

In most years, there is no question that the Awesome Again winner belongs running against the best older dirt routers in the Breeders’ Cup. But trainer Bob Baffert could think twice, considering the expected presence of Flightline and Life Is Good. The latter horse is a fast and gifted pacesetter, and the former is one of the greatest talents this sport has seen in a long time.

Could Defunded’s early speed help weaken those two stars and help the closers? The answer looks like no. First of all, Defunded is not fast enough on numbers to contest the lead with Life Is Good, if they let Life Is Good roll with no restrictions. Also, Defunded is not in the same class.

The idea of Defunded keeping up with Life Is Good in the early stages seems implausible based on numbers, if they let Life Is Good go early. 

Similar to Defunded, Life Is Good finished first in the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Aqueduct Saturday after setting the early pace. But the strange part is that Irad Ortiz Jr. rated Life Is Good. According to TimeformUS, Life Is Good posted pace figures of 123, 123 and 121. After a surprising challenge from Law Professor, Life Is Good won by 1 1/4 lengths.

But in the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, Life Is Good posted fast pace figures of 150, 150 and 142 on his way to winning the race by two lengths. In the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) in January, Life Is Good posted even more impressive pace figures of 152, 152 and 148 before winning by 3 1/4 lengths. If let loose early, Life Is Good can blaze through the early fractions and still finish the race off, with the Dubai World Cup (G1) effort in March the lone exception on his great record.

Defunded posted pace figures of 136, 136 and 130 in the Awesome Again. Those are fast pace figures that can secure the lead in most Grade 1 races, but they are not fast enough to contest the Whitney version of Life Is Good.

Earlier in the year, Defunded also posted early pace figures of 147, 138 and 130 in the Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita. Those numbers come a little closer to what he needs to contest the lead versus Life Is Good, but it still feels like Life Is Good should outfoot Defunded.

Even if Defunded did end up in a speed duel with Life Is Good, Flightline would sit in a perfect position behind them and simply take over the lead on the turn. The closers would not get a chance to win as Flightline took over.

In addition, Epicenter could show off some of his speed as well and find himself in a great spot to strike. He would get first run before the closers started to get near. The race is too loaded with stars up front.

Defunded is not in the same league as those three names. Life Is Good, Flightline and Epicenter likely would not even feel his presence. In fact, if Life Is Good somehow missed the break and Defunded secured the early lead, they would treat the situation as if no horse was in front of them.

When a lower-class horse sets the pace with a higher-class horse tracking him, the one with higher class is supposed to go by without breaking a sweat. Most good speed horses know when the other speed horse does not belong, leading to the outmatched runner folding fast.

Defunded is not on the same plateau as the best dirt routers. He won the Awesome Again because he ran against a lower level of Grade 1 horses.

In other words, Defunded’s hypothetical presence in the Breeders’ Cup Classic probably does not help the closers to a significant degree. Even though Defunded won the Awesome Again last weekend, he would end up as an annoying pace presence in the Classic and get swatted away soon.

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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