February 3, 2023

Defunded shrugs off poor start in Native Diver

Defunded and jockey Edwin Maldonado win the Native Diver Stakes (Photo by Benoit Photo)

When 7-10 favorite Defunded left the gate not just slowly in Sunday’s $150,500 Native Diver (G3), but awkwardly with a sideways hop, backers might have felt that their wallets would be defunded. The Bob Baffert trainee gave swift reassurance, however, that he was in fact a sound investment. Recovering to force the pace, he drew off as much the best at Del Mar.

Jockey Edwin Maldonado, who guided Defunded to his breakthrough score in the Oct. 1 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, stayed calm and let the favorite find his feet. It didn’t take long. Go Joe Won and Newgrange went forward in the initial strides, with Tizamagician on the rail and Parnelli close on the outside. But by the time they crossed the wire for the first time, Defunded was already dragging his way into second.

A half-length off Go Joe Won through the opening quarter in :23.52, Defunded ratcheted up the pressure to match strides in :46.41 and 1:10.34. Pegram, Watson, and Weitman’s Dialed In gelding put his pace rival away turning for home and romped by 4 3/4 lengths.

Stablemate Azul Coast, the defending Native Diver champ, closed from last to complete the Baffert exacta. Newgrange, who appeared to lose interest once easing off the pace, kept on again for third. Go Joe Won faded to fourth, trailed by Tizamagician and Parnelli.

By finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.12, Defunded boosted his earnings to $608,100 from a 13-5-3-1 record.

“He came away from there a little bit slow,” Maldonado said, “but I wasn’t concerned. This horse doesn’t need to be in front. He’s won from off the pace before. I rode him with confidence all the way. On the turn he wanted to lean on the horse inside us, but I got him going straight, and it all worked out from there.”

Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes was relieved that the early tempo was soft enough to help Defunded get back into the game.

“Edwin said Defunded was kind of wanting to sit back (in the gate), and when that happens and they sit back, when the gate opens then you’re going the wrong way,” Barnes explained. “Luckily they were going slow enough he was able to recover and get back in a good position.”

Defunded has now won two straight after losing his way over the summer at Del Mar. Previously a nearly-horse, he had been runner-up in the 2021 Affirmed (G3) and Los Alamitos Derby (G3) as well as in the May 30 Hollywood Gold Cup (G1).

“He’s always had talent,” Barnes said. “It’s just that he’s been a little aggressive in the paddock on us at times. But he went through the paddock good, he went to the gate good, so maybe we’ve got him straightened out.”

Bred by Athens Woods in Kentucky, Defunded was a $210,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase. His dam, the multiple stakes-placed Wind Caper, is by Touch Gold, who famously denied Baffert’s Silver Charm a Triple Crown sweep in the 1997 Belmont (G1). This is the further family of multiple Grade 1 star Code of Honor.