George Bolton and Fog City Stable’s The Factor, an easy winner of the Rebel (Grade III) in first visit to Arkansas, has returned to “The Natural State” as a strong 7-5 favorite in a field of 13 3-year-olds entered in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

            Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia indicated this week that an impressive victory in the Arkansas Derby would likely make the Bob Baffert-trained son of War Front the morning line favorite for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 7.

            The Factor drew post three in the 13-horse Arkansas Derby field and jockey Martin Garcia will return to the saddle as the colt runs at the 1 1/8-mile distance for the first time.  The Factor has won three of four starts, with a three-race winning streak that includes victories in the San Vicente (GII) at Santa Anita and his romp in the Rebel.

            The Arkansas Derby was the final prep for WinStar Farm’s 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who finished second at Oaklawn before winning the big race at Churchill Downs three weeks later.

            Looking for redemption in this year’s Arkansas Derby is Super Saver’s half-brother, WinStar Farm’s homebred Brethren.  The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Distorted Humor has not raced since a disappointing third-place run as the heavy favorite behind longshot Watch Me Go in the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII).

            It was the first loss in four career starts for Brethren, who had won Tampa Bay’s Sam F. Davis (GIII) in his previous start.  Pletcher will add blinkers to Brethren’s equipment on Saturday and Ramon Dominguez will ride the WinStar colt, who is listed at 10-1 in the Arkansas Derby morning line.  Pletcher will also saddle Dance City (15-1).

            Another colt looking to revive his Kentucky Derby hopes in Saturday’s race is Sway Away, who loomed as a major Kentucky Derby contender following a close runner-up finish to The Factor in the San Vicente, but never threatened in a sixth-place finish in the Rebel.  Trainer Jeff Bonde’s Southern California-based colt remained at Oaklawn after that race and has trained well since.  Sway Away will also be equipped with blinkers for the first time.

            Others in the Arkansas Derby include Louisiana Derby (GII) runner-up Nehro; Archarcharch, winner of Oaklawn’s Southwest (GIII) and third in the Rebel; Elite Alex, fourth in the Louisiana Derby and three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel’s only the “Run for the Roses” mount at this point; and Southwest runner-up

J P’s Gusto, who will also blinkers for Saturday’s race; and stretch-running Rebel runner-up Caleb’s Posse. 

            Others in the Arkansas Derby include Alternation, Truman’s Commander, Saratoga Red and J W Blue.

            Post time for the Arkansas Derby is scheduled for 5:58 p.m. (Central).

            The Arkansas Derby undercard includes the $100,000 Northern Spur for 3-year-olds at a mile.  The Steve Asmussen-trained Albergatti heads a field of nine.

            Arkansas Derby Odds and Ends: The race will feature a $1 million purse for the eighth consecutive year … Inaugurated in 1936, the race has produced five Kentucky Derby winners since 1983, including two who won both races: Sunny’s Halo (1st in 1983 Arkansas Derby), Lil E. Tee (2nd in 1992), Grindstone (2nd in 1996), Smarty Jones (1st in 2004) and Super Saver (2nd in 2010) … Four horses exited the race last year to run in the Derby: winner Line of David (18th in the Derby), runner-up Super Saver (Kentucky Derby winner), third Dublin (7th in the Derby) and fifth Noble’s Promise (5th in the Derby) … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 68-4-1-5 … The filly Althea (1984) holds the stakes record of 1:46.80 … Concern (1994), Balto Star (2001) and Smarty Jones (2004) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figures (109); Certain (1999) recorded the lowest (94) … California shippers have won the last three runnings: Gayego (2008), Papa Clem (2009) and Line of David (2010).

MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / SANTIVA HEADS LARGE FIELD IN TOYOTA BLUE GRASSTom WaltersSantiva, winner of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and runner-up in his 2011 debut to Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds, figures to be a lukewarm favorite when he faces 11 rivals in Saturday’s 87th running of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) over the synthetic Polytrack surface at Keeneland.

            Handicapper Mike Battaglia has installed Santiva as the 3-1 morning line choice in the 1 1/8-mile race, which has sent 19 horses on to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.  The most recent was James Tafel’s Street Sense, who finished second in the 2007 Toyota Bluegrass but won the Derby three weeks alter.

            Santiva will break from post three and will have Julien Leparoux in the saddle for the first time.  Trainer Eddie Kenneally’s Giant’s Causeway colt has a 1-3-1 record in five races that includes a runner-up finish to J.B.’s Thunder last fall in Keeneland’s Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI),

            “There’s some speed in the race,” Kenneally said.  “There is no true, true speed horses in there, but there are horses that like to lay close to the pace, as does our horse.  With a good break, we’ll just leave it with Julien, let him dictate what happens as the race unfolds.  No specific instructions for him.”

            Other Toyota Blue Grass contenders include West Point Thoroughbreds’ King Congie (5-1), who was disqualified from a win in Gulfstream Park’s Hallandale Beach on turf and then scratched from Turfway Park’s Vinery Racing Spiral (GIII) because of a muscle strain; the Neil Howard-trained Wilkinson (6-1), winner of Fair Grounds’ Lecomte (GIII) on traditional dirt; and Brilliant Speed (6-1), elevated to second in the Hallandale Beach.

            Trainer Mike Maker, who won the Toyota Blue Grass a year ago with Stately Victor, has a pair of contenders this year in Joes Blazing Aaron (12-1), winner of the Gulfstream Park’s Palm Beach (GIII) on turf, and Twinspired, the winner of Turfway Park’s WEBN Stakes and third in the Vinery Racing Spiral.

            Todd Pletcher, who won the Blue Grass with Bandini (2005) and Monba (2008) will saddle a trio of contenders this year in Queen’splatekitten, Sensational Slam and Praetereo

            Completing the Toyota Blue Grass field are Willcox Inn, Crimson China and Newsdad.

            Post time for the Toyota Blue Grass is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. (Eastern)

            Toyota Blue Grass Odds and Ends: Inaugurated at Keeneland in 1937, the race has produced 18 Kentucky Derby winners, including 10 who won both races: Whirlaway (2nd in 1941 Blue Grass), Shut Out (1st in 1942), Tomy Lee (1st in 1959), Decidedly (2nd in 1962), Chateaugay (1st in 1963), Northern Dancer (1st in 1964), Lucky Debonair (1st in 1965), Proud Clarion (2nd in 1967), Forward Pass (1st in 1968), Dust Commander (1st in 1970), Riva Ridge (1st in 1972), Spectacular Bid (1st in 1979), Alysheba (3rd via disqualification in 1987), Unbridled (3rd in 1990), Strike the Gold (1st in 1991), Sea Hero (4th in 1993), Thunder Gulch (4th in 1995) and Street Sense (2nd in 2007) … Three horses exited the race last year to run in the Derby: winner Stately Victor (8th in the Derby), runner-up Paddy O’Prado (3rd in the Derby) and sixth Make Music for Me (4th in the Derby) … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 96-6-9-6 … Record of starters in the Derby since they installed the synthetic Polytrack surface in 2007: 17-1-0-1 … Stately Victor (2010) holds the Polytrack stakes record of 1:48.69 … Sinister Minister (2006) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (116); Monba (2008) recorded the lowest (92).

EAST (Maryland, New York) / TESTS ON UNCLE MO DETECT INFECTION – Post-race blood tests conducted three days after last Saturday’s loss by Repole Stable’s Uncle Mo in the April 9 Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct indicate the 2010 juvenile champion suffered from an infection that could explain his disappointing performance.

            Uncle Mo, the 1-10 favorite in the Wood, led most of the way through moderate fractions, but was collared in the stretch, first by runner-up Arthur’s Tale and then by eventual winner Toby’s Corner.  A press release issued on Thursday, April 14 by trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole revealed that blood work performed on Uncle Mo on Tuesday revealed that the colt had an infection of his GI tract.  Pletcher said treatment started immediately.

            “The vets also concluded that Uncle Mo is perfectly capable of returning to full training while the treatment continues,” Pletcher said.  “My main focus is to return Uncle Mo to optimum health in the next 23 days, and I am optimistic that we can accomplish this goal.”

            Plans call for Uncle Mo to ship from New York to Churchill Downs on Monday, April 18.  Pletcher said Uncle Mo would work twice before the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

            Repole said in the release that he was “relieved” that the test results were “able to find a reason why we got a disappointing performance” from Uncle Mo in the Wood.

            “I, like all racing fans, hope that Uncle Mo will be 100 percent on May 7th and in the starting gate at Churchill Downs,” Repole said. “Though it has been a lifelong dream to run (in) and win the Kentucky Derby, if Uncle Mo is not 100 percent, we will skip the Derby and go right to the Preakness (GI).”

            Uncle Mo returned to the track for jogs on Wednesday and Thursday.

WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / PREMIER PEGASUS COULD BE OUT OF TRAINING UNTIL FALL – Owner-trainer Myung Kwon Cho’s San Felipe (GII) winner Premier Pegasus, the favorite for last week’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI) before he suffered leg injury, could be out of training until September.

            Daily Racing Form reported on Friday that assistant trainer Maria Ayala said that the son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus would spend the next two months resting in his owner’s stable.

            Premier Pegasus fractured his left front cannon bone and underwent surgery on April 8 to place a stabilizing screw placed in the leg.  Ayala said Premier Pegasus could go to a local farm later in the summer.

            “In two months, we’ll see the X-ray and if everything is good, we can take out the screw,” Ayala told DRF’s Steve Anderson.  “The doctor said it’s not too bad and it looks good.”

            SA Derby’s Top Two Look Toward LouisvilleMidnight Interlude and Comma to the Top, the top two finishers in the Santa Anita Derby, returned to the track on Wednesday as their connections eyed trips to Louisville to compete in Kentucky Derby 137.

            Trainer Peter Miller told Daily Racing Form that Comma to the Top would have two works at Hollywood Park before he travels to Churchill Downs on May 2.           

BATTAGLIA TABS THE FACTOR AS DERBY FAVORITE – FOR NOW – Last week’s surprising loss by Uncle Mo in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct was an unexpected turn on the road to Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby 137.   The setback probably cost the previously unbeaten and unchallenged Uncle Mo the status of favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.

            Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia, who sets morning line odds for the Kentucky Derby, was asked this week to take an early crack at Derby 137 odds in the aftermath of Uncle Mo’s loss.  Battaglia looked at the 20 3-year-olds now atop the list of graded stakes earnings and determined that, if the Kentucky Derby was run on that day (Tuesday, April 12), Arkansas Derby favorite The Factor would be the 7-2 morning line choice for the Run for the Roses.

            Battaglia set Dialed In and Uncle Mo as the co-second choices at 4-1.

            The rest of Battaglia’s very early morning line included Soldat (10-1); Toby’s Corner (10-1); Midnight Interlude (12-1); Mucho Macho Man (12-1); Animal Kingdom (15-1); Pants On Fire (15-1); Santiva (20-1); Shackleford (20-1); Comma to the Top (30-1); Jaycito (30-1); Stay Thirsty (30-1); Astrology (50-1); Decisive Moment (50-1); J P’s Gusto (50-1); Master of Hounds (50-1); Twice the Appeal (50-1); and Watch Me Go (50-1).