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2022 Native Diver Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Will Defunded Get Fried As Short Favorite?
Defunded (Lindsay Affleck)

2022 Native Diver Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Will Defunded Get Fried As Short Favorite?

Mike previews the 2022 Native Diver Stakes (G3) from Del Mar, then gives his top picks & long shots. Will the Bob Baffert-trained morning line favorite Defunded, winner of the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) last time out, get fried due to the expected quick pace scenario, or is he too good to play against? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Tizamagician will try again to get back in the winner’s circle when the stakes action at Del Mar shifts to the main track Sunday for the mile and an eighth, G3 Native Diver.

The son of Tiznow heads up a six-pack of horses, 3-year-olds and up. He hasn’t had his picture taken after a race since winning the G3 Cougar II during the summer meet at Del Mar in 2021. Since then he’s run in nothing but Graded stakes, finishing in the money four out of six times. He was runner-up in the 2021 Pacific Classic, runner-up in defense of his crown in this year’s Cougar II, and third in his latest race, the G3 Tokyo City at Santa Anita last month.

‘I wish it was another 3/8’s of a mile,” trainer Richard Mandella says of the Native Diver. “He likes a mile and a half. But it’s the only place I had to run him and he’s doing good so we’ll just give it a try.”

Tizamagician isn’t the only Mandella horse having a hard time finding the winners circle. The Hall of Fame trainer got off to a slow start to the Bing Crosby meet, going oh-for 11 before winning back-to-back races Friday afternoon.

“I’m doing everything to my whole barn to get them over the hump,” Mandella says. “They’ve had me under a cloud since summer. So I’m doing anything I can to try to break out.”

Standing in the way of Mandella and Tizamagician are two horses in good form right now. Defunded is coming off of a breakout win in the G1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita last month.

“It was one of his better races,” trainer Bob Baffert says. “He keeps getting better but he hasn’t run well at Del Mar for some reason.”

The son of Dialed In had a rough summer at Del Mar, running seventh in the G2 San Diego and then sixth in the shorter G2 Pat O’Brien. Baffert says he was going to send Defunded out of town to run, but decided to keep him here for the Native Diver Sunday.

“I think it’s a good spot for him,” he says. “It’s a nice race and he likes the distance.”

Baffert is also giving Azul Coast a chance to defend his title in the Native Diver. The 5-year-old son of Super Saver hasn’t won since winning last year’s race, finishing eighth and last in the Awesome Again and then fifth and last in an allowance last out.

He was beaten that day by former Baffert trainee Newgrange, who is now in the Philip D’Amato barn and is also entered in the Native Diver. The 3-year-old son of Violence made some noise on the Kentucky Derby trail earlier this year but went to the sideline after a sixth-place finish in the G2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February.

He returned in September and ran third in the Shared Belief here at Del Mar but then won a second level allowance by five lengths at Santa Anita last out.

“He’s got every right to keep improving, “D’Amato says. “He was a nice graded stakes winner earlier this year, was sold privately, and he’s just getting better and better.”

The G3 Native Diver is the eighth of nine races on the Sunday card. First post is at 12:30 p.m.

Here’s the field from the rail with the jockeys and morning line:

  1. Azul Coast (John Velazquez, 6-1)
  2. Tizamagician (Flavien Prat, 4-1)
  3. Go Joe Won (Jose Valdivia, Jr., 12-1)
  4. Newgrange (Ricardo Gonzalez, 5/2)
  5. Defunded (Edwin Maldonado, 6/5)
  6. Parnelli (Victor Espinoza, 6-1)