Californian Stakes & Kona Gold Odds and Picks

The Graded-stakes action at Santa Anita on Saturday has a chalky look about it, with hot favorites in both races. G1 winner Defunded is the class act on show as he returns to his preferred distance in the G2 Californian Stakes against the 2021 winner Royal Ship, while the speedy Brickyard Ride, who has won 12 times at this track, bids to repeat last year’s success in the G3 Kona Gold against the up-and-coming Anarchist.

Californian Stakes

G2, $200,000, 1m 1f dirt, 4yo+, 5.07pm PT

A previous winner of the Californian Stakes bids to regain his crown in the feature race at Santa Anita on Saturday, a veteran campaigner attempting to arrest his decline and reclaim former glories.

Two years ago Royal Ship (3-1) came in off a flat effort in the G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf here to upset a short field for the Californian, when he stalked the pace and pounced to beat no less a rival than Country Grammer. A consistent type if no longer a prolific winner, he hit the jackpot again in the mile-sixteenth G2 San Diego at Del Mar last summer, again beating Country Grammer with today’s rivals Parnelli and Defunded well in arrears, but his last two starts have been awful.

He was last of eight in the Kilroe Mile last month, ignored on the tote board and never in the race at all, and although he’s probably still better than that it takes a considerable leap of faith to see him as a contender, even in this softish contest.

All the focus is on Defunded (4-5), who is as well as he’s ever been and will appreciate cutting back after his stamina gave out in the last sixteenth of the ten-furlong G1 Santa Anita Handicap. He led and was clear at the eighth-pole, but it was too much for him and he was run down close home.

This distance, over which he was runner-up in the G1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and winner of the G1 Awesome Again here in October, with Royal Ship beaten 20 lengths into sixth, suits his trailblazing style perfectly, and with only one rival for the pace he could enjoy a freebie out on the lead.

The third wheel here is Parnelli (4-1), who is zero-for-seven in stakes but showed his time might be coming when a longshot third in the G2 San Pasqual over course and distance in January, just lacking a kick to finish off his race. He obviously needs to find more but this looks a good spot for him.

Class is an issue for the remaining 50 per cent of the field. The other pace angle is Midnight Mammoth (8-1), who works the allowance beat and comes off an upset gate-to-wire score here over a mile-sixteenth, arguably a career-best. If he gets tangled up in a duel with Defunded, though, there’ll only be one winner.

Fellow allowance horse Mr Impossible (8-1) will find this a different world after beating just three rivals over a mile-sixteenth at Golden Gate Fields, when he also rolled gate-to-wire, while Kiss Today Goodbye (15-1) is riding an eight-race losing streak stretching back to 2020 and no longer has the game for Graded races.

Californian Stakes Odds & Betting Pick

This can be safely left to DEFUNDED, whose triple threat of a huge class edge, solid recent G1 form and his ideal distance makes him impossible to oppose.

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
DefundedJuan J. Hernandez-125
Kiss Today GoodbyeHector Isaac Berrios+1500
Mr. ImpossibleRamon A. Vazquez+800
Midnight MammothKyle Frey+800
ParnelliVictor Espinoza+400
Royal Ship (BRZ)Mike E. Smith+300

Kona Gold

G3, $100,000, 6 1/2f dirt, 4yo+, 3.02pm PT

A similar situation arises in the supporting Kona Gold, with last year’s winner returning to the scene of the crime on a mission to recapture his previous sparkling form.

Twelve months ago the brilliantly fast Brickyard Ride (6-5) was completing a four-timer at this circuit, on the main track and the lawn, from today’s distance up to a mile, each win characterised by explosive pace from the gate and sustained demonstration of speed. His Kona Gold score was easy, hosing his three rivals by two and a quarter lengths, but the wheels came off next time in the G2 Triple Bend here over seven furlongs and that was his 2022 finished.

After nine months on the bench he returned with a decent effort in the G3 San Simeon over course and distance on turf, third place after leading but obviously a little rusty, and he should be in fighting trim today. He has won 12 times and all have been at Santa Anita.

Brickyard Ride has a half-length to catch up on San Simeon runner-up Anarchist (5-2), who was making his stakes debut. Anarchist – who has only ever won a maiden – was having his third race back after a layoff and won’t have the advantage of race-fitness now, although he is firmly on the upgrade and could make a big move forward. There may not be that much between the pair again.

Anarchist’s barnmate Positivity (6-1) has been out of action for more than 13 months, since an abortive sojourn in Dubai where he underlined the notion that he doesn’t have what it takes to succeed at Graded level. On his last start Stateside he was comfortably beaten by Brickyard Ride in a six-furlong stakes here, and is tough to like given class concerns and that monster layoff.

Armagnac (6-1) is a horse in search of an identity, as in his last four runs he has finished seventh in the Preakness and been well beaten over a mile and more on turf and dirt. This assignment looks like a Hail Mary play, back in sprints for the first time since his debut, and he could just as easily hit the board or finish a long way last. He’s not a betting proposition.

The old man of the party Sunrise Journey (4-1) has never looked capable of cutting it at this level, although he is in something of a purple patch right now, hunting a three-timer after an all-the-way win here in a six-furlong allowance. The very lightly raced Trumped (15-1) bids to take his winning streak to four after making hay in sprints at Turf Paradise this year, and after just four starts he’s entitled to keep moving up, but he has a very long way to go.

Kona Gold Stakes Odds & Betting Prediction

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
AnarchistRamon A. Vazquez+250
Sunrise JourneyEdwin A. Maldonado+400
ArmagnacAbel Cedillo+600
Brickyard RideJuan J. Hernandez+120
PositivityTiago Josue Pereira+600
TrumpedVictor Espinoza+1500

There’s less about this race than meets the eye and it offers a golden opportunity for last year’s winner BRICKYARD RIDE to continue his incredible record here.

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