Bob Baffert's "project" paid big dividends on Saturday when Defunded took the field gate-to-wire to win the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, a “win and you’re in” for next month’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.
With Edwin Maldonado in the irons, Defunded completed 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.38 to earn his first graded-stakes victory by 1 3/4 lengths. Stablemate Country Grammer, the 11-10 favorite, edged long shot Slow Down Andy (14-1) by a half length for second, with Express Train (4-1) rounding out the superfecta.
As for Defunded or Country Grammer in the Breeders' Cup, Baffert indicated it was unlikely while adding, "we'll look at the competition."
Defunded is a 4-year-old gelding by Dialed In owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman. Baffert said the decision to geld Defunded “was made early” because he has been a difficult horse to handle.
“He’s been a project. He’s been tough to train,” said Baffert, who earned his record eighth win in the Awesome Again. “My crew put in a lot of work with this horse.”
Even after castration, things haven’t always been easy with Defunded. Baffert noted before this year’s San Diego (G2) at Del Mar, Defunded “almost hurt someone in the receiving barn."
“He just lost it. He had a meltdown in the receiving barn, the paddock. He just couldn’t handle it,” Baffert said.
Defunded would duel on the lead in the July 30 San Diego before fading to seventh. A month later when cut back to seven furlongs in the Pat O’Brien (G2), Defunded could not make the early lead and checked in sixth.
Largely because of Defunded’s antics, Baffert said it remains to be determined whether he goes on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Baffert already has dual Grade 1 winner Taiba likely ticketed to the race.
“We don’t know yet,” Baffert said. “We know it’s a win and you’re in, but we’re going to think about it. I don’t know if he’s mentally capable of handling that paddock there at Keeneland.”
Before shipping to Del Mar this summer, Defunded nearly won the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) on May 30 at Santa Anita when beaten just a length by There Goes Harvard. That was while he was with trainer Sean McCarthy, who took over conditioning duties as Baffert served a 90-day suspension.
In the Awesome Again, Defunded spurted clear out of the gate and was guided to the rail as Slow Down Andy, Express Train and Country Grammer stalked close-up in that order. Defunded kept a one-length advantage as he carved fractions of 22.67 seconds, 46.70 and 1:10.70 for six furlongs.
As the field turned into the stretch, Slow Down Andy kept up the chase in second as Country Grammer was trying to find his best stride under Juan Hernandez. Neither could get to the winner. Defunded still led by a length when reaching the eighth pole in 1:36.06 then extended the advantage to the wire.
For Maldonado, it was his first Grade 1 win in a career that dates to 2002, according to Equibase.
“It was a very nice trip,” said Maldonado, who has ridden in eight Breeders’ Cup races without a win. “Bob told me I had a great shot in this race so put I him on the lead. And when Bob says you have a shot, you have a shot.”
Defunded returned $12 as the 5-1 third choice in the wagering.
“He had everything his own way,” Baffert noted. “He likes to get out there and get in a nice rhythm. He couldn’t do that at Del Mar, but he’s very talented.”
As for Country Grammer, winner of the rich Dubai World Cup (G1) earlier this year, Baffert was disappointed with the effort.
“He didn’t have that punch like he usually has,” Baffert said. “(Hernandez) was having to ask him the whole way around. He could be getting a little tired.”
Defunded was purchased for $210,000 at auction as a yearling. He ups his record to 12: 4-3-1 with earnings of $518,100.