“He was a compete wreck at Del Mar,” said trainer Bob Baffert.
Once back at Santa Anita Park, Defunded reversed his attitude. Coming off two unplaced efforts at Del Mar, Defunded responded to being back “home” with a front-running win in the $301,500, Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes on Oct. 1. And while he didn’t turn in a performance to rival the absent Flightline’s 19 ¼-length domination in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes, Defunded beat a field that included Country Grammer, Royal Ship, and Express Train, who finished second, third, and fourth to Flightline.
Baffert entered four in the 1 1/8-mile race, which offers a “Win & You’re In” berth to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Bettors backed Country Grammer, who earlier this year won the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, down to 11-10 favoritism. Royal Ship and Express Train were the second and third choices, followed by Defunded at 5-1.
“I think he’s a really good rider, and he rides my horses really well,” Baffert said. “He rides them with confidence. I love to put him on speed horses. He’s so smooth out of the gate. He just gets horses running away from there.”
Maldonado did just that in the Awesome Again, breaking Defunded on top. The rest of the field left him alone through the first part of the race as Defunded completed the first quarter-mile in :22.67 and a half-mile in :46.70.
Slow Down Andy, a California-bred 3-year-old coming off a turf win in the Caesars Sportsbook Del Mar Derby, stumbled badly at the start, but got back into the race for jockey Mario Gutierrez. He ranged up close to Defunded on the backside, yet Defunded held him at bay. Slow Down Andy gamely took another run at him around the second turn, an effort that ultimately proved futile.
Defunded kept to his task all through the stretch, expanding what had been a length lead through most of the race to 1 ¾ lengths at the wire in 1:49.38. Country Grammer came on to grab second from Slow Down Andy by a half-length. It was another 4 ½ lengths back to Express Train in fourth.
“Bob told me I had a great shot in this race, so put him on the lead,” said Maldonado. “And when Bob says you have a shot, you have a shot.”
Baffert noted that Country Grammer “didn’t have that punch like he usually has today – he could be getting a little tired.”
Baffert trains Defunded for longtime clients Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, who led all owners at the recent Del Mar meeting, despite Defunded not contributing to the cause. The Awesome Again was Defunded’s first stakes win, and he gave Baffert his eighth win in the race.
“He just couldn’t handle that paddock down there,” said Baffert. “He had a complete meltdown.”
The question arose as to whether Defunded would like Keeneland, where this year’s Breeders’ Cup is being held.
“We don’t know yet,” admitted Baffert. “We know it’s a Win and You’re In. We’re going to think about that and,” – Baffert smiled and added – ”look at the competition. I don’t know if he’s mentally capable of handling that Keeneland paddock. I’m not sure. Right now we’re just going to enjoy this win.”