The Factor , knocked off the Triple Crown trail by an ankle injury more than four months ago, outfought crack sprinter Smiling Tiger in a speed duel and drew off in the stretch to win the $250,000 Pat O'Brien Stakes (gr. I) comfortably at Del Mar Aug. 28 (VIDEO).
Sent off as the narrow 17-10 second choice to Smiling Tiger, The Factor was ridden to a 1 3/4-length victory by Martin Garcia for trainer Bob Baffert and owners George Bolton and Fog City Stable. Baffert won the Pat O'Brien for the fifth time in his Hall of Fame career, including the past three in succession.
The Factor, out of action since finishing seventh in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 16, earned his first grade I victory. The gray/roan son of War Front , facing older horses for the first time, affirmed his status as one of the fastest horses in the country.
He completed the seven-furlong test in 1:21.56, slightly off Del Mar's Polytrack mark of 1:21.17 established by Lewis Michael in the 2008 Pat O'Brien.
“When this horse is really on his game he is an extraordinary horse," Baffert said. "I’m just glad to have him back. He has got the most beautiful stride I’ve ever seen on a horse. It’s like he barely picks up his feet.”
The Factor became the fourth 3-year-old to win the Pat O'Brien in the race's 26-year history.
Smiling Tiger fought for the early lead on the outside under Joel Rosario and showed good early speed as he and The Factor vied head-and-head for the opening half-mile. They burned the opening quarter-mile in :22.41 and the half in :44.28.
“I know we went fast early," Rosario said of Smiling Tiger, the 7-5 choice. "Maybe too fast. He just got real tired.”
The Factor, along the rail, took a short lead into the turn and inched away to a one-length advantage over Smiling Tiger at mid-stretch. The Factor kicked away under steady urging and was not threatened in the final furlong as Smiling Tiger gave way.
"My horse was running easy," Garcia said after registering his first stakes win of the Del Mar meet. "He took me up in there without even trying. Then I was going easy and (Smiling Tiger and Rosario) were trying. By the quarter pole they were gone.
"My horse is really fast. If you take him back, he loses interest. And you saw it today: not only is he fast, maybe as fast a horse as I’ve ever ridden, but he’ll keep on going. He wasn’t getting tired or backing up there at the end at all. He’s a really nice horse.”
Camp Victory, chasing the pacesetters in third while racing a bit off the rail for Joe Talamo, angled out in the stretch and finished second by a half-length over the closing Crown of Thorns and Garrett Gomez. Crown of Thorns got up for the show spot by a head over Smiling Tiger. Don Tito trailed in a field of five.
H & W Thoroughbreds bred The Factor, a $250,000 Barretts buy in May 2010. The colt is out of the Miswaki mare Greyciousness.
The Factor, winner of the San Vicente (gr. II) and Rebel (gr. II) stakes earlier this year, won for the fourth time in six lifetime starts and extended his earnings to $457,180. He had been working up a storm at Del Mar for his return in the Pat O'Brien, including six-furlong bullet works of 1:10 Aug. 20 and 1:10 4/5 Aug. 14, both out of the gate.
“Bejarano worked him for me the last time and when he came back I asked ‘Is he ready?’ and he said, ‘Oh man, he’s ready.’
“I was worried when I saw Smiling Tiger go after us early, but Rosario, he’ll do that. But Martin didn’t panic, he didn’t move on the horse, he stayed relaxed. So when I saw :44 1/5, I was looking back to see who was coming, but it looked like they were struggling a little bit. The Factor just kept on going the whole way around. He’s quite a horse."
Baffert said he would like to run The Factor in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint or the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile both (gr. I) this November at Churchill Downs. "It’s a one-turn mile, and I’d probably like to keep him around one turn,” Baffert said.
Carrying 118 pounds, five fewer than the top-weighted Smiling Tiger, The Factor paid $5.40, $4.20, $3.20. Camp Victory, second in the Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) in his most recent start July 2, returned $5 and $3.20. Camp Victory, now second in four consecutive graded stakes tries, filled out a $28.40 exacta. Crown of Thorns, cutting back to a sprint distance for trainer Richard Mandella, paid $3.40 to show.
Caracortado, who won the Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT) Aug. 27, was scratched.