January 28, 2023

Defunded, Newgrange square off in Native Diver

Defunded and jockey Edwin Maldonado win the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita (Photo by Benoit Photo)

Sunday’s $150,000 Native Diver (G3) at Del Mar could be billed as a clash of former stablemates: Defunded and Azul Coast, still with Bob Baffert, and barn alum Newgrange.

Defunded comes off a new career high in the Oct. 1 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, where he went wire to wire over stablemate Country Grammer. That “Win and You’re In” coup earned him a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but connections declined to tackle heavy favorite Flightline. The lightly-raced Dialed In gelding hopes to keep his momentum going with Edwin Maldonado in the saddle.

Although defending Native Diver winner Azul Coast hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since last year’s edition of this race, he’s only been seen three times. The son of Super Saver was sidelined after a fifth in the Dec. 26 San Antonio (G2). A tailed-off last in his comeback in the Awesome Again, Azul Coast was a better fifth to Newgrange in a recent allowance optional claimer at Santa Anita. His bullet half-mile workout in :47.60 on Wednesday implies he could step forward third off the layoff, and John Velazquez picks up the mount.

Newgrange captured two early-season Kentucky Derby (G1) preps, the Sham (G3) and Southwest (G3), before dropping off the trail. Sold for $325,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s July Selected Horses of All Ages Sale, the Violence colt was transferred from Baffert to Phil D’Amato. Newgrange likely needed the race when finishing a distant third behind Go Joe Won in the Shared Belief S., and he improved significantly next time in a 5 1/2-length allowance romp.

Also likely to be prominent early is marathoner Tizamagician, who shortens up to 1 1/8 miles off a series of losses. Placed when attempting to defend titles in both the Cougar II (G3) and Tokyo City Cup (G3), the Richard Mandella veteran might be more effective on the cutback at this stage of his career. Flavien Prat regains the mount.

Go Joe Won, who sprang a 21-1 surprise in the Shared Belief, was most recently a dead-heat fourth in the Twilight Derby (G2). After that turf experiment, the gutsy son of Protonico aims to stay perfect on the Del Mar dirt. But the Paula Capestro trainee will have to cope with serious pace rivals.

Might the contested pace scenario finally help Parnelli? The Quality Road four-year-old has promised more than he’s delivered in stakes company, a pattern renewed with his fifth in the July 30 San Diego (G2) last out. Yet he previously scored back-to-back allowance wins for John Shirreffs, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he puts it together in the Native Diver.