The Factor , making his seasonal debut in the $200,000 San Carlos Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 25, started his 2012 campaign the same way he finished up last year, winning at seven furlongs on Santa Anita's main track (VIDEO).
The front-running 7-10 favorite in the field of five held off the fast-closing Sway Away by a half-length to win for the fourth time in as many tries at the distance. Winner of the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) for trainer Bob Baffert at Santa Anita in his most recent start Dec. 26, The Factor completed the distance in 1:20.56 this time.
Amazombie, the 2011 male sprint champion, was in good position on the outside, but failed to show the needed kick. In his first start since winning last fall's Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), he finished third.
Baffert is on an amazing roll. According to the Santa Anita publicity office, the Hall of Fame trainer has won 16 of the past 17 races in which he has had a starter (at Oaklawn Park, Golden Gate Fields, and Santa Anita), including 11 in a row. He has five stakes victories in that span.
"I've never been on a streak like this," the 59-year-old Baffert said. "It's exciting."
Stewards held an inquiry into the stretch run before making the result official. The Factor drifted in near the furlong pole under right-handed urging from jockey Martin Garcia, causing Victor Espinoza, aboard the rallying Canonize along the rail, to take up briefly. Canonize would finish fourth.
“I was a lane in front of Victor's horse," Garcia said. "I came in a little today, but there was nobody there and I’m not sure why there was an inquiry.”
Owned by George Bolton and Fog City Stable, The Factor is a 4-year-old gray/roan colt by War Front out of the Miswaki mare Greyciousness. H & W Thoroughbreds bred the $250,000 Barretts purchase in Kentucky.
Working superbly at Hollywood Park for his first start in two months, The Factor won for the fourth time in five tries at Santa Anita. The victory, his sixth in 10 lifetime starts overall, was worth $120,000. He has now banked $772,180.
The Factor took the lead along the inside, getting a little pressure from Rothko early before gaining control. He carved an opening quarter mile in :22.55 and the half in :44.50, just cruising for him, and was in command by nearly two lengths in the homestretch. Rothko gave way and Amazombie, who raced in third, came up empty in the lane.
“He came back for the Malibu, we really tightened the screws for that race," Baffert said. "This race, we sort of took it easy on him and I was hoping he could just get by on what we had given him. My plan is to see how he comes out of it. We have Dubai (March 31) and George (Bolton) has been kicking around the Ascot thing (Royal Ascot in June) but there are more negatives than there are positives to it.
“For right now, we just want to soak up the win and enjoy it. The Factor really dug in today. It looked like they were going to come to him a little bit, then he took off again."
Sway Away, who trailed most of the way, made a big run on the far outside for Rafael Bejarano to make it interesting in the late stages. Amazombie, making his second lifetime start at seven furlongs, was a little short in the end, finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind The Factor while edging Canonize by a head for third.
"I'm just glad The Factor showed up today," Baffert said. "He ran really hard. He was pretty tired when he came back, but we’re excited the way he ran. He’s always been brilliant since day one."
As for the hot streak, Baffert said, "I’ve got a great staff, they work hard, everybody’s focused right now. That’s why we’re doing well. We’re picking the right spots for these horses and that’s the most important thing.”
Sharing top weight of 123 pounds with Amazombie, The Factor paid $3.40, $2.80, and $2.10 as the 3-5 pick. Sway Away, in his first start since last June for trainer Jeff Bonde, returned $5.60 and $2.80 while rounding out a $25 exacta. Amazombie paid $2.10.
"He was off since June so you can’t complain when a horse runs that well first time back, but it’s frustrating," Bonde said. "We were hoping somebody would pressure (The Factor) a little harder and, it just is what it is. But our horse ran well. I’m not going to complain.”
Trainer Bill Spawr said Amazombie needed the race, as he expected.
"We’ll see what happens next time," he added.
Canonize was followed by Rothko. Mensa Heat scratched.