Fog City Stable and George Bolton's THE FACTOR (War Front) ran to his status as the 4-5 favorite in Sunday's $150,000 San Vicente S. (G2) at Santa Anita, posting a three-quarter length victory on the wire for trainer Bob Baffert.
The three-year-old colt declared his candidacy for the Kentucky Derby (G1) when finishing up the seven-furlong test in 1:20 1/5 in just his third career start.
Martin Garcia had piloting duties aboard The Factor after the colt had previously been ridden by Joel Rosario and Rafael Bejarano. Taking the reins for the first time, he allowed his mount to show speed right out of the gate.
The gray colt gunned it to split horses and challenge City Cool (City Zip) for pacesetting duties not long after the bell rang. He took command and proceeded through splits of :22 1/5 and :43 2/5 with City Cool keeping pace to his inside. That rival couldn't maintain his momentum, though, and faded to be last in the field of six as The Factor sped through six furlongs in 1:07 1/5.
The Factor appeared clear in the stretch, but found a new threat in the form of Sway Away (Afleet Alex). The late runner rallied from last and powered down the center of the lane with his head held high, but couldn't catch The Factor before that one hit the wire.
"He has a lot of speed and I know that the horse inside of me had a lot of speed too. I just let him break by himself," Garcia said. "The more you fight, the more he's going to take off. He doesn't want to be behind horses, so I just let him be comfortable and he kept going. He is still learning. This is only the third time he has been out. I think the more that he runs, the better he will get. I don't think any horse can keep up with him, as fast as he went.
"I want to thank Mr. (Bob) Baffert and the owners. They gave me a chance to get him back. A lot of jockeys have been winning races for him, so I want to say thanks again to Bob and the owners for giving me another chance."
"He's so talented. I knew he was going to get a lot of pressure up front," Baffert said. "I told Martin (Garcia), 'You are the speed. Let's go with him and find out what he's made of.'
"I knew it was going to be a really fast pace. The more I looked at the race, we were right in between the two speed horses, and I was afraid they would leave there and try to put the squeeze on him...and that was the only way we he could get beat, was if they put the squeeze on him and (Garcia) had to check him and take him back. Just let him do his thing and don't worry about it. I think he's good enough to keep going and win and he did. He got a little tired at the end. That's a nice horse that ran second."
Sway Away, runner-up in the Best Pal S. (G2) prior to the San Vicente, had to settle for second yet again while 2 1/2 lengths clear of Premier Pegasus (Fusaichi Pegasus).
"It's heartbreaking to lose, but that's the way the game goes," trainer Jeff Bonde said of Sway Away's second. "This horse is the best (Kentucky) Derby chance I've had in many years. He probably could have used one more work and he maybe got back a little too far today, but he showed me enough that I'm still a believer in him.
"He's eligible to all the (three-year-old) stakes here (at Santa Anita), all the (three-year-old) stakes at Oaklawn. Whichever one looks good for us, that's where we'll be."
Third-placer Premier Pegasus ran well in defeat after tracking close to the early pace. Surrey Star (Ire) (Dubawi), Sinai (Rockport Harbor) and City Cool completed the order under the wire after Indian Winter (Indian Charlie), Metropolitan Man (Hook and Ladder) and Oakcrest Drive (Arch) were all scratched.
The Factor gave back $3.80, $2.80 and $2.40 for taking his stakes debut. Long well regarded, the gray lived up to his billing with an 8 1/4-length maiden romp at Santa Anita on December 26, setting a track record of 1:06.98 for six furlongs. That was his first start on a conventional dirt track following a fourth-place run in his career debut over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track in late November. The San Vicente winner's share tripled his earnings to $124,680, and he is now 3-2-0-0 for his career.
"One thing about (owner) George (Bolton), he's very patient," Baffert replied when asked what's next for his charge. "He's been in this game a long time and we'll wait for The Factor to tell us when he's ready to jump back into the fray. It's hard to get a horse like this. They don't come around very often. He'll benefit from this race."
Bred in Kentucky by H & W Thoroughbreds, The Factor is the first stakes conqueror out of the winning Greyciousness (Miswaki), who has also produced a juvenile colt named Fifty Five South (Cuvee) and a Run Away and Hide yearling filly. She is herself out of multiple stakes victress Skatingonthinice (Icecapade), making her a half-sister to 1999 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and Champagne S. (G1) second Chief Seattle (Seattle Slew).
This is the same family as last year's Singspiel S. (Can-G3) third Perfect Shower (Perfect Soul [Ire]), who captured the 2009 Breeders' S. at Woodbine; multiple Group 1-winning Maeto (Spend One Dollar); and Grade 3 scorer Rizzi Girl (Rizzi).