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Mike previews the 2023 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) from Santa Anita Park, then gives his top picks & long shots. Current Bob Baffert trainee Defunded faces off against his former stablemate Newgrange, now in the Phil D’Amato barn. Bragging rights are on the line in “The Big Cap” – who wins? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
With Bob Baffert in search of his sixth Big Cap victory and upstart Phil D’Amato aiming for his first ever win in one of North America’s signature showdowns for older horses, Defunded and Newgrange head a field of 11 older horses going a mile and one quarter in the 86th running of the Grade I, $500,000 Santa Anita Handicap, presented by Yaamava’ Resort & Casino on Saturday.
Second, beaten 4 ½ lengths at 5-2 going a mile and one eighth in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park, Defunded, who in his only career try at a mile and one quarter, finished second here six starts back in the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup on May 30 of last year, looms the likely favorite with leading man Juan Hernandez, who takes off of Newgrange to ride Defunded for the first time.
A 5-year-old gelding owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, Defunded is on a roll for Baffert, having won the Grade III Native Diver on Nov. 27 at Del Mar and the Grade I Awesome Again here three starts back on Oct. 1.
Defunded, who seeks his third graded stakes victory, is 14-5-4-1 overall with earnings of $1,168,100.
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D’Amato, a San Pedro native who was Santa Anita’s leading Winter/Spring Meet trainer a year ago, will be seeking his first Big Cap win as will European legend Frankie Dettori, who climbs aboard Newgrange for the first time.
Newgrange, fresh off an authoritative one length tally over Baffert’s Hopper in the mile and one eighth San Pasqual when ridden for the first time by Hernandez, was a two-time graded stakes winner last year at age three when conditioned by Baffert. Transferred to D’Amato prior to running third in the ungraded Shared Belief Stakes going a flat mile at Del Mar four starts back on Sept. 3, Newgrange put it all together in a 5 ½ length one mile allowance score here on Nov. 6, earning a career-top 97 Beyer Speed Figure.
A non-threatening third, beaten 5 ½ lengths by Defunded in the Grade III Native Diver two starts back, Newgrange appears to be at the top of his game as he tries a mile and a quarter for the first time.
Owned by David Bernsen, Little Red Feather Racing and Rockingham Ranch, Newgrange is a 4-year-old colt by Violence out of the Empire Maker mare Bella Chianti. With five wins and two thirds from eight overall starts, he has earnings of $747,334.
Although second beaten a length by Newgrange as the 7-5 favorite on Jan. 28, Baffert’s Hopper had been idle since running away with the Grade III Affirmed Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths here on June 11 and should no doubt benefit from a recent race.
A bargain $90,000 Keeneland September Yearling, Hopper, who debuted in a six furlong turf maiden sprint here on Feb. 25, 2022, will be making only his fifth career start as he stretches out an eighth of a mile.
A 4-year-old colt by Declaration of War out of the Caesour mare Irridescence, Hopper earned a 95 Beyer off the bench in the San Pasqual and with an abundance of natural speed, looms dangerous with Mike Smith taking over for the first time.
Owned by Lanni Bloodstock, SF Racing, LLC and Madaket Stables, LLC, Hopper has two wins and a second with earnings of $140,700.
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A winner of the Grade I Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs going a mile and one eighth two starts back, trainer Michael Stidham’s Proxy was most recently fifth, beaten 7 ½ lengths in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28 and ships west for the first time from Fairgrounds in New Orleans. Ridden by eastern-based Joel Rosario in his last three starts, Proxy will get the services of John Velazquez in the Big Cap.
A Godolphin, LLC homebred, Proxy is a 5-year-old horse by Tapit out of the Include mare Panty Raid. With an overall mark of 14-4-5-2, he has earnings of $1,055,220.
A winner of last year’s Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup three starts back here on May 30, trainer Michael McCarthy’s There Goes Harvard rates a big chance at a price and will be ridden for the first time by Japanese sensation Kazushi Kimura. A troubled 11th, beaten 4 ¼ lengths going one mile on turf in the Grade III Thunder Road Stakes on Feb. 4, There Goes Harvard should move up with a recent race under his belt as he returns to the Santa Anita main track, were he has two wins and as many second and thirds from six tries.
A Cannon Thoroughbreds, LLC homebred 5-year-old horse by Will Take Charge, There Goes Harvard was attentive to the pace in his Hollywood Gold Cup score under Irad Ortiz, Jr., and will likely employ similar tactics in the Big Cap. With an overall mark of 14-4-5-2, he has earnings of $456,090.
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