Duplication and divergence of primary pathway genes underlie the evolution of plant specialized metabolism; however, mechanisms partitioning parallel hormone and defence pathways are often speculative. For example, the primary pathway intermediate ent-kaurene is essential for gibberellin biosynthesis and is also a proposed precursor for maize antibiotics. By integrating transcriptional coregulation patterns, genome-wide association studies, combinatorial enzyme assays, proteomics and targeted mutant analyses, we show that maize kauralexin biosynthesis proceeds via the positional isomer ent-isokaurene formed by a diterpene synthase pair recruited from gibberellin metabolism. The oxygenation and subsequent desaturation of ent-isokaurene by three promiscuous cytochrome P450s and a new steroid 5α reductase indirectly yields predominant ent-kaurene-associated antibiotics required for Fusarium stalk rot resistance. The divergence and differential expression of pathway branches derived from multiple duplicated hormone-metabolic genes minimizes dysregulation of primary metabolism via the circuitous biosynthesis of ent-kaurene-related antibiotics without the production of growth hormone precursors during defence.