Awesome Start to Santa Anita's Autumn Meet

Defunded | Benoit


Santa Anita kicks off its Autumn meet in style this weekend, highlighted by eight graded stakes, including Saturday's GI Awesome Again S., a Breeders' Cup 'Win and You're In' for the Nov. 4 Classic.

As is his custom, trainer Bob Baffert is armed with a slew of Classic prospects, however, he confirmed last week that one of the early Classic favorites–GI Pacific Classic scorer Arabian Knight (Uncle Mo)–would bypass this local Breeders' Cup Classic prep. Also missing this weekend's lineup, GI Haskell Invitational winner Geaux Rocket Ride (Candy Ride {Arg}) is expected to train straight up to the Classic, as will GI Whitney S. victor White Abarrio (Race Day).

However, despite Arabian Knight's absence, Baffert, who has won this race five times since the re-naming of the Goodwood in 2012, once again looms large, unleashing a pair of Grade I winners–defending champ Defunded (Dialed In) and National Treasure (Quality Road), winner of this season's GI Preakness S.

Defunded has shown a strong affinity for The Great Race Place, having won there in five of nine starts, including victories in this season's GII Californian and GI Gold Cup. Fourth behind Senor Buscador (Mineshaft) in the GII San Diego H. at Del Mar, Defunded finished sixth behind stablemate Arabian Knight (Uncle Mo) in the 10-furlong Pacific Classic Sept. 2. The 5-year-old appears likely to be kept company on the front end early by Classic winner National Treasure who, along with MGISP Skinner (Curlin), is one of only two sophomores in the field. Runner up in the GI American Pharoah S. at this venue last fall, he rounded out the season with a third in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland in November. Third in the GIII Sham S. in January and fourth in the Apr. 8 GI Santa Anita Derby, the colt went to the front early and remained tough late to head the ultra-game Blazing Sevens (Good Magic) in the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Wilting to sixth while stretching to 12 furlongs for the GI Belmont June 10, the bay never got into the mix of things-in while in absence of blinkers–in the GI Travers S. over 10 furlongs Aug. 26. In a rider's edition of musical chairs, Juan Hernandez replaces Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard the Classic winner, while Edwin Maldonado, gets the call on Defunded Saturday.

Sporting some solid credentials himself, Slow Down Andy (Nyquist) offered a good showing last time out when third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Arabian Knight and runner-up Geaux Rocket Ride, in the Pacific Classic and followed up with a second-place effort in the 8 1/2-furlong GII San Diego H. at Del Mar July 29. He was also sixth in the GI Met Mile earlier in June.

Victorious in last season's GIII Sunland Derby and the grassy GII Del Mar Derby, the Doug O'Neill trainee rounded out 2022 with a third behind Cody's Wish (Curlin) in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland Nov. 5.

Also attempting to get back into the winner's circle Saturday, Stilleto Boy (Shackleford) recorded his biggest career score in the GI Santa Anita H. over 1 1/4 miles in March before coming up a head short while cutting back to nine panels in the GII Oaklawn H. the following month. Tiring to sixth in a rerouted renewal of the GI Stephen Foster S., contested at Ellis July 1, the gelding was eased after a problematic start last time out in the Pacific Classic and will try to rebound in this cut back. Trained by Ed Moger, the $420,000 Fasig-Tipton Horses in Training graduate, a winner of last season's GII Californian over this track and trip, has hit the board in six of seven starts at Santa Anita.


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