September 28, 2023

Defunded high weight in Santa Anita Handicap; Hong Kong Harry looks solid in Kilroe Mile

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

Defunded tops a pair of contenders for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in Saturday’s $500,000 Santa Anita H. (G1) over 1 1/4 miles. A field of 11 was entered, with Defunded assigned top weight of 125 pounds.

Baffert last won the Big ‘Cap in 2014, when Game On Dude won for the third time in four years. While not as prolific at the top level, Defunded has been fairly strong since last fall, when he earned back-to-back wins in the Awesome Again (G1) and Native Diver (G3), the former over world-traveling stablemate Country Grammer.

Defunded ran well in his season debut, the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream, finishing a clear second to upset winner Art Collector. Finishing third in the Pegasus was returning rival Stiletto Boy, whose signature win occurred last April in the Californian (G2). That followed a distant third-place finish in the 2022 Big ‘Cap.

Baffert also saddles the lightly-raced Hopper, who won two of three starts last season. That included a 5 1/4-length romp in the Affirmed (G3) in June. Returning from a long spell in the Jan. 28 San Pasqual (G2), Hopper finished second in between Newgrange, a former Baffert trainee now with Phil D’Amato, and Parnelli.

The two leading shippers for the Big ‘Cap are Clark (G1) winner Proxy, who never threatened when fifth in the Pegasus World Cup, and Warrant, who missed by a head to Express Train in this event last year. The Brad Cox-trained Warrant did not replicate that form in softer spots last spring and summer, but won his allowance prep at Fair Grounds in late January.

Another of note in the field is There Goes Harvard, who’s been unplaced twice since upsetting the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) last May.

Hong Kong Harry looks the horse to beat in the $500,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) on the turf. The D’Amato trainee has won all but one race since his importation from Britain, including the Del Mar Mile (G2) and Seabiscuit H. (G2) in his last two starts. He is perfect from three previous runs over the Santa Anita lawn.

The enigmatic Royal Ship has done his best work over the dirt since arriving from Brazil several years ago, but missed by only a length in the 2021 edition of the Kilroe and adds blinkers for this try. Balnikhov, Air Force Red, and Du Jour are other potential players, though Gold Phoenix and Masteroffoxhounds might prefer more ground.

The stakes action on Saturday kicks off with the $200,000 Buena Vista (G2), a one-mile grass test for fillies and mares, where Quattroelle looks to follow-up on her recent half-length win in the course-and-distance Megahertz (G3).