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2023 San Diego Handicap Preview & FREE Picks | Defunded Brings 2-Race Win Streak To Del Mar
Defunded (Lindsay Affleck)

2023 San Diego Handicap Preview & FREE Picks | Defunded Brings 2-Race Win Streak To Del Mar

Dr. Miranda previews the 2023 San Diego Handicap (G2) from Del Mar, then gives her top picks & long shots from the local prep for the Pacific Classic Stakes (G1).

The Bob Baffert-trained Defunded brings his 2-race win streak south, but will the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) champion get upset? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

The handicap division appears to be a wide open affair this year. No Flightlines around to bully all the others.

Proxy, Art Collector and Last Samurai traded punches over the winter, while out west Defunded, Stilleto Boy and Taiba notched victories in the handicap division. In the spring Exaulted, West Will Power and Idiomatic entered the picture. Now with the summer comes the influx of 3-year-olds who survived the Triple Crown trail and are ready to take on older horses. They include Geaux Rocket Ride, Mage and Forte.

Plus, to just muddy the waters even more, Cody’s Wish is planning to try the G1 Whitney at Saratoga next month to see if he can go farther than a mile.

So it will be a contentious next few months leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, starting this Saturday with the G2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, the local prep for the G1 Fanduel Pacific Classic September 2. Nine horses are entered in the mile and a sixteenth test led by Defunded.

The San Diego Handicap will be Race 8 on the 11 race Saturday card. Approximate post time is 5:30 p.m.

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The son of Dialed In is arguably the best handicap horse on the West Coast after he snagged the G1 Hollywood Gold Cup last out at Santa Anita in May. That followed a brilliant performance in the G2 Californian in April, a race he won by three lengths.

“Last year I ran him in the race (the San Diego) and he kind of lost it in the paddock,” Trainer Bob Baffert remembers. “So we’ll see how he handles it this year. He’s doing well. There’s a lot of speed in there, so that will be interesting.”

Defunded ran seventh in the 2022 edition of the San Diego Handicap after setting the pace to the top of the lane. Baffert says he’s always been a tough horse.

“He’s his own worst enemy,” Baffert says. “We had to geld him. He has always been really headstrong. He gets excited in the paddock and this is a tough paddock for him. So we’ve been doing a lot of schooling with him and he’s getting better. He’s improved with age.”

Baffert says everything has to go right for Defunded, but once it does, he is one tough customer. He won the G1 Awesome Again last year and the G3 Native Diver at Del Mar in the fall. He kicked off 2023 with a runner-up finish to Art Collector in the G1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and followed that with a close third to Stilleto Boy and Proxy in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap prior to his win in the Californian.

Defunded is highweight in the San Diego at 125 pounds. Royal Ship and Slow Down Andy are next at 122 pounds.

Last year’s San Diego Handicap winner, Royal Ship, returns to defend his crown. The 7-year old son of Midshipman hasn’t won since his victory at Del Mar last summer but trainer Richard Mandella is confident Royal Ship will make a good showing.

Slow Down Andy returns to the scene of his biggest victory, the G2 Del Mar Derby last year. Granted, that was on the turf but his subsequent third-place finishes in the G1 Awesome Again and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile show the son of Nyquist can handle any surface.

There’s also Brickyard Ride, a speedy Cal-bred who will be stretching out. He did win the one-mile $100,000 Tiznow Stakes at Santa Anita in February of 2022 but he has run one-turn races since, winning the G3 Kona Gold both last year and this year. The 6-year-old speedball posted a bullet five furlong work last Friday and is expected to go to the lead.

“Defunded is tough,” trainer Craig Lewis acknowledges. “Maybe the best horse in the handicap division. We’ll give him a target.”

Another horse of note is Tripoli, the 2021 Pacific Classic winner. The 6-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy has only one win, an allowance at Golden Gate Fields, in the two years since his big victory at Del Mar.

Here is the full field for the San Diego in post position order with riders and odds:

  1. Slow Down Andy (Mario Gutierrez, 5-1)
  2. Royal Ship (Mike Smith, 6-1)
  3. Tripoli (Tiago Pereira, 15-1)
  4. Missed the Cut (Hector Berrios, 5-1)
  5. American Admiral (Ramon Vasquez, 6-1)
  6. Defunded (Juan Hernandez, 8/5)
  7. Senor Buscador (Giovanni Franco, 12-1)
  8. Piroli (scratched)
  9. Tisquantum (Edwin Maldonado, 30-1)
  10. Brickyard Ride (Umberto Rispoli, 6-1)