A smashing 6 1/4-length winner of the March 19 Rebel S. (G2), THE FACTOR (War Front) will be after another front-running victory at Oaklawn Park when he lines against 12 opponents in Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). The Bob Baffert-trained colt is one of the top-ranked contenders for the Kentucky Derby (G1), especially in the wake of Uncle Mo's (Indian Charlie) stunning loss last Saturday, and will likely secure the favorite's role at Churchill Downs with a repeat performance.
Owned by Fog City Stable & George Bolton, The Factor broke his maiden in his second career start on December 26, establishing a new six-furlong track record at Santa Anita in the 8 1/4-length romp, and led wire to wire when making his stakes bow in the seven-furlong San Vicente S. (G2) on February 20. He made his first start around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel, opening up a comfortable early lead through moderate fractions before accelerating away in the stretch, and netted a field-best 106 BRIS Speed rating.
His last three Speed numbers (106-104-106) are outstanding and The Factor is well-drawn in post 3 with jockey Martin Garcia. They'll play catch-me-if-you-can on the front end.
Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up NEHRO (Mineshaft) drew the rail with new rider Corey Nakatani and has been installed as the 5-1 second choice. The bay colt showed an affinity for the Hot Springs track two starts back, recording a 4 1/2-length maiden score, and missed by only a neck when turning in a very commendable stakes debut in the Louisiana Derby. Nehro showed the ability to navigate through trouble last time, overcoming a rough trip in tight quarters at Fair Grounds, and he'll look to keep moving forward for trainer Steve Asmussen.
SWAY AWAY (Afleet Alex) made up a lot of ground in the San Vicente stretch before falling three-quarters of a length short of The Factor in second, but faltered when shipping for the Rebel, checking in a disappointing sixth at short odds. The Jeff Bonde trainee was compromised when steadied early during the race and his connections are hoping that he "spit the bit" that afternoon while expecting a big rebound in the Arkansas Derby. Bonde elected to keep his colt at Oaklawn in the interim and Sway Away shows a couple of swift works over the local oval. He'll pick up the services of Pat Valenzuela and break from post 5.
BRETHREN (Distorted Humor) is another colt seeking a reversal of fortunes. A half-brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, the Todd Pletcher runner showed plenty of promise when easily capturing the February 12 Sam F. Davis S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, but came up short as the 1-2 favorite in the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), finishing third behind a pair of undistinguished rivals. Brethren will keep regular rider Ramon Dominguez and looms as an intriguing 10-1 on the Arkansas Derby morning line.
Pletcher will also send out recent Gulfstream allowance winner DANCE CITY (City Zip). After breaking his maiden at nine furlongs two starts back, Dance City edged well-regarded stablemate Cal Nation (Distorted Humor) by a nose when cutting back to a one-turn mile on March 19. Javier Castellano will make the trip to ride the potentially up-and-coming colt.
ELITE ALEX (Afleet Alex) will look to make a late impact under Calvin Borel. Third when making his stakes debut in the Southwest, he was fanned extremely wide that afternoon and the confirmed closer waited too long to find his best stride in the Louisiana Derby most recently, belatedly rallying past rivals in the stretch for fourth. He registered a 125 BRIS Late Pace rating in the latter, and trainer Tim Ritchey is hoping The Factor faces some pace pressure in order to set the table for his come-from-behind specialist.
Southwest S. (G3) winner ARCHARCHARCH (Arch) is a top local hope for Jinks Fires. Third in the Rebel, the dark bay will have Jon Court in the saddle. CALEB'S POSSE (Posse) and ALTERNATION (Distorted Humor) will run coupled from the Donnie Von Hemel stable. Caleb's Posse, who captured the Smarty Jones S. before a disappointing sixth in the Southwest, will enter on the upswing following an encouraging second at 24-1 odds in the Rebel. Alternation was scheduled to make his stakes debut in the Rebel, but was scratched after acting up terribly in the starting gate. He owns a three-race win streak, capturing a pair of allowance events at Oaklawn.
J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) reeled off four consecutive stakes victories at two, including an easy win in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), but the Joe Petalino charge will be attempting to snap a five-race losing streak on Saturday. He loses the services of Dominguez following a seventh in the Rebel. SARATOGA RED (Eddington) will start from the far outside in his third career start. The D. Wayne Lukas pupil captured his career bow on February 24, winning a one-mile maiden special weight in the slop, and recorded a surprising fourth at 34-1 in the Rebel.
Rounding out the field are longshots TRUMAN'S COMMANDER (Friends Lake) and J W BLUE (Sky Mesa).