Bob Baffert is never far from the center of racing conversation. He will remain in the spotlight Monday when he saddles two of his best runners in a Grade 1 event at Santa Anita.
Defunded (4-5) and Country Grammer (8-5) are the two shortest prices on the morning line for the $400,000 Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes (G1). Post time from Santa Anita is 7:44 p.m. EDT, with FanDuel TV showing the 1 1/4-mile race for male dirt routers.
Earlier this month, Baffert won the Preakness Stakes a record eighth time when National Treasure held runner-up Blazing Sevens at bay. The triumph came hours after stablemate Havnameltdown suffered a fatal injury in an undercard event.
Then last week, Baffert took a pair of off-track defeats. A Kentucky hearing officer confirmed the late Medina Spirit’s 2021 Kentucky Derby disqualification Friday, two days after a federal judge ruled in favor of Churchill Downs Inc. in a lawsuit Baffert filed.
After winning the Preakness, an emotional Baffert described horse racing as “twists and turns, ups and downs.” The Hollywood Gold Cup has provided Baffert many of the “ups” over the last three decades, as he has won the race eight times since 1999.
Country Grammer took the 2021 Hollywood Gold Cup in his second start for Baffert after leaving trainer Chad Brown’s barn. Since then, the son of Tonalist has won the 2022 Dubai World Cup (G1) and run second in both the 2022 and ’23 runnings of the Saudi Cup (G1).
Jockey Flavien Prat will climb aboard Country Grammer on Monday for the 6-year-old’s first U.S. start of the year. He will aim for a bounce-back effort off a seventh-place run March 25 at Meydan Racecourse in the Dubai World Cup (G1).
Favoritism went not to Country Grammer, earner of nearly $15 million in his career, but to stablemate Defunded.
The Dialed In gelding was second in this race one year ago, part of a season highlighted by an Awesome Again Stakes (G1) win at Santa Anita in October. In three starts this season, he was second in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), third in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) and then first April 22 in the local Californian Stakes (G2).
Longtime Baffert owners Michael Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman campaign Defunded. Jockey Juan Hernandez gets the call on the 5-year-old.
Señor Buscador (5-1) was briefly on the 2021 Kentucky Derby trail and then made the grade last October by winning Churchill Downs’s Ack Ack Stakes (G3). He enters off a fourth-place finish April 22 in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for trainer Todd Fincher.
Kiss Today Goodbye (12-1) has not won a race since the 2020 San Antonio Stakes (G2). Trained by Eric Kruljac, he was fourth last out in the Californian.
Here is a look at the field for the 2023 Hollywood Gold Cup (trainers and jockeys in parentheses) with morning-line odds:
1. Country Grammer (Bob Baffert, Flavien Prat), 8-5
2. Senor Buscador (Todd Fincher, Luis Saez), 5-1
3. Yes This Time (Mark Glatt, Kazushi Kimura), 15-1
4. Defunded (Bob Baffert, Juan Hernandez), 4-5
5. Piroli (Michael McCarthy, Kent Desormeaux), 15-1
6. Kiss Today Goodbye (Eric Kruljac, Hector Berrios), 12-1
TimeformUS pace projections predict Defunded to show the way under Hernandez in a race lacking speed.
Other holiday stakes
Here is a look at other Memorial Day graded stakes taking place at Santa Anita and elsewhere across the U.S. All post times are EDT.
4:22 p.m. – $225,000 Winning Colors Stakes (G3), 4-and-up fillies and mares, six furlongs, Churchill Downs, FS2
Echo Zulu (4-5), the 2021 Eclipse Award winner for champion juvenile filly, runs for her sixth graded-stakes win in her first start since running second Nov. 5 at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Jockey Florent Geroux will pilot the 4-year-old Gun Runner filly for trainer Steve Asmussen. Dale Romans trains Fire On Time (3-1), who enters off a Churchill allowance win May 12 at this same sprint distance. Gulfstream Park stakes winner Spirit Wind (7-2) also runs after winning an allowance race, hers coming March 31 at Gulfstream for trainer Ralph Nicks.
6:12 p.m. – $400,000 Gamely Stakes (G1), 3-and-up fillies and mares, 1 1/8 miles (turf), Santa Anita, FanDuel TV
Queen Goddess (9-5), whose four graded victories include the local 2021 American Oaks (G1), looks to bounce back off a sixth-place showing April 15 in Keeneland’s Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1). Jockey Luis Saez gets the call on the 5-year-old Empire Maker mare for trainer Michael McCarthy. Brendan Walsh trains Viareggio (5-2), a Group 3 winner in Ireland whose U.S. bow was an allowance win April 21 at Keeneland. Grade 2 victor Quattroelle (3-1) was runner-up April 30 in the local Wilshire Stakes (G3) for trainer Jeff Mullins.
7:13 p.m. – $500,000 Shoemaker Mile Stakes (G1), 3-and-up, one mile (turf), Santa Anita, FanDuel TV
Hong Kong Harry (7-2) returns to trainer Phil D’Amato’s Southern California base off a second-place finish behind Up to the Mark on May 6 at Churchill in the Turf Classic Stakes (G1). Jockey Flavien Prat will climb aboard the 6-year-old Es Que Love gelding, a dual Grade 2 winner. D’Amato also trains Gold Phoenix (4-1), who scored at the Grade 1 level in Santa Anita’s Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes before finishing fourth there April 8 in the Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2). Exaulted (5-1) won over this surface and distance April 2 in the American Stakes (G3) for trainer Peter Eurton.
8:05 p.m. – $400,000 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes (G3), 3-and-up, one mile, Lone Star, FanDuel TV
Touchuponastar (3-1), winner of six straight races in Louisiana, goes west to make his graded-stakes debut for trainer Jeff Delhomme. Jockey Timothy Thornton will be up on the 4-year-old Star Guitar gelding, winner of the EVD Classic Stakes on May 6 at Evangeline. Mike Maker trains Endorsed (7-2), who followed a Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) win in March by running eighth May 6 in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1). Asmussen trainee Silver Prospector (4-1), who won the 2022 Sexton Mile, was sixth April 1 in the Oaklawn Mile Stakes (G3).