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Defunded is the surprise Bob Baffert winner in the Awesome Again Stakes

It was not a surprise that Bob Baffert won the Grade 1 $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes. After all, he had four of the eight horses in Saturday’s race. What was surprising was which Baffert horse won.

Defunded, who had never won a graded stakes race, took the lead early and wouldn’t give it up over the 1-1/8-mile race to win by 1¾ lengths and get an all-expenses-paid entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

All eyes were on stablemate Country Grammer, who finished second to Flightline a month ago in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He won the $12-million Dubai World Cup this year and bettors installed him as the even-money favorite. He didn’t run a bad race, finishing second. He just couldn’t catch Defunded and jockey Edwin Maldonado.

“Defunded ran so well here before and when we got to Del Mar, he just had a meltdown in the paddock and didn’t behave himself,” Baffert said. “[Saturday] he was perfect. They all loaded into the gate perfect, and I give Edwin a lot of the credit because he is such a great speed rider. I told him I’d thrown him a nice horse when we got up [to Santa Anita] and he rode a perfect race.”

It was the first Grade 1 win for the 39-year-old rider, who has been in more than 12,000 races over a two-decade-long career.

“Bob told me I had a great shot in this race, so I put him on the lead,” Maldonado said. “And when Bob says you have a shot, you have a shot. … At this point of my career, I was due for a big race. It came through. What better time than the second day at Santa Anita? A good time.”

Defunded and jockey Edwin Maldonado win the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.

(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

Defunded paid $12.00, $4.60 and $3.40. Slow Down Andy was third, followed by Express Train, Tripoli, Royal Ship, High Connection and Azul Coast.

It was the biggest card of the 18-day autumn meeting at Santa Anita with five graded stakes.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the return of Forbidden Kingdom in the Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. He was very much in the Kentucky Derby picture after winning the San Felipe Stakes by 5¾ lengths. But he faltered in the Santa Anita Derby and it was later discovered he had a health issue that caused him to be removed from training.

Whatever he had in March, Forbidden Kingdom didn’t have it Saturday. He was a well-beaten fifth in the six-horse field, after taking the lead for about half the six-furlong race.

The winner was Howbeit in a less-than-a-nose victory over 8-year-old gelding C Z Rocket. Howbeit was the fourth favorite and paid $14.40 to win for trainer Mark Glatt.

“I think he jumped past the wire and I wasn’t too sure I was in front,” winning jockey Mike Smith said. “We needed just every bit of that race to hang on and win.”

In the Grade 2 $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship, Masteroffoxhounds ($6.20 to win) went gate to wire to win by a neck. Starting on the downhill turf course, the 5-year-old won for the first time since Feb. 6, 2021, as jockey Umberto Rispoli hustled the horse out of the gate, gained about a three-length lead through the backstretch and then held off Dicey Mo Chara for the win in the 1¼-mle race. Trainer Phil D’Amato was a likely winner in that he had half of the entrants in the six-horse field.

Beyond Brilliant ($3.80), the even-money winner of the Grade 2 $200,000 City of Hope Mile Stakes, also went gate to wire to win by three-quarters of a length. It was his second graded stakes win this year in four starts for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Victor Espinoza.

Glatt also picked up a win when longshot Whatmakessammyrun ($38.00) won the Grade 2 $200,000 Eddie D Stakes down the 6½-furlong downhill turf course. He took the lead after the dirt crossover and held on to win by three-quarters of a length under Joe Bravo.

Santa Anita has another Breeders’ Cup qualifying race Sunday, the five-furlong Speakeasy Stakes on the turf. The winner gets an entry in the Juvenile Turf race.

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