We weren’t privy to trainer Bob Baffert’s Christmas holiday wish list, but it’s a fair bet that it included a win in the Dec. 26 Malibu Stakes (gr. I), a race in which he had gone 0-for-20 over the years. The present was duly delivered on the day after Christmas with the triumph of The Factor , one of four horses representing the conditioner in the race.
In recording his victory, The Factor followed Caleb's Posse as only the second sophomore male of 2011 to win two grade I events, and to defeat older horses in a contest at that level. The Factor’s Malibu victory came a year to the day after he burst onto the scene with a win in a Santa Anita maiden event, scoring by 8¼ lengths while covering six furlongs in a track-record-breaking 1:06.98, albeit over a lightning fast surface. The gray followed that effort by taking the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II), running the seven furlongs in 1:20.34, and then placed himself in the Derby picture, taking the 8½-furlong Rebel Stakes (gr. II) by 6¼ lengths from Caleb’s Posse and Archarcharch. The classic dream died in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), when The Factor faded to seventh behind Archarcharch. Subsequently it was revealed that he had flipped his palate, and that he had a hairline fracture of the hind ankle, which also probably happened in the course of the race.
Away from the races for over four months, The Factor returned against older horses in the Pat O’Brien Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar, and led virtually throughout to score by 1¾ lengths. Made favorite for the six-furlong Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I), The Factor faded to fourth, after dueling through fractions of :21.27 and :43.80. Tackling the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) rather than the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I), The Factor failed to fire, dropping out of contention after leading through the half-mile point. Initially, the Malibu wasn’t on The Factor’s agenda, but he began to come around in his work, and his facile 3½-length victory in a near track-record time of 1:19.89 (the track record is 1:19.70) clearly demonstrated that he is back to his best. We might also note that three of his four graded wins have come at seven furlongs, so he may be particularly well suited to this somewhat specialist distance.
The Factor is a member of the first crop sired by War Front , who is quickly progressing upward through the stallion ranks as illustrated by his 2012 stud fee of $60,000 and seasons on the private market being quoted at six figures. The Claiborne Stud resident retired at a fee of $12,500. His progeny’s performance to date is particularly impressive considering that War Front himself was at his best at 4, an age that his offspring have yet to reach. War Front himself started just once at 2, finishing off the board. At 3, he won three of his five starts, including an eight lengths win in the 8½-furlong Princelet Stakes. Following that victory, War Front ended his 3-year-old campaign running off the board in the Discovery Handicap (gr. III) over the same distance, and thereafter was kept to sprints. He proved highly effective at the shorter distances, and although he only won one of his seven starts at 4, the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II), he did finish second in five other graded sprints, including the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) and Forego Stakes (gr. I).
Although seemingly best at sprints, War Front doesn’t have the pedigree of an out-and-out sprinter. His sire, Danzig, was responsible for several brilliant speedsters but could get runners who were effective over significantly further distances. War Front’s dam, Starry Dreamer, is by champion sprinter Rubiano but was a very atypical daughter of her sire, with her best going long on the turf. She won three stakes, including the Palisades Stakes at nine furlongs, and placing in several major events, including seconds in Long Island (gr. II) and La Prevoyante (gr. III) handicaps at 12 furlongs. War Front’s second and third dams are by Forli and Round Table, who were both effective over a distance of ground.
When we look at the nine stakes winners in War Front’s first crop, it does seem that the background of the pedigree is having an impact. In addition to The Factor, who of course is himself a graded winner at 8½ furlongs, the other graded winners from his first year at stud are Summer Soiree, who has taken a trio of graded stakes, including the Del Mar Oaks (gr. I) at nine furlongs, and Soldat , whose most notable triumph came in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) again at nine furlongs.
As far as his second crop is concerned, War Front has already been represented by stakes winners State of Play, who took the With Anticipation Stakes (gr. II)—a race won the previous year by Soldat—and Summer Front , successful in the King Cugat Stakes and Dania Beach Stakes, as well as the Del Mar Debutante Stakes (gr. I).
The Factor’s dam, the Miswaki mare Greyciousness, won twice at up to 8½ furlongs, as did her dam, the minor stakes winner, Skatingonthinice. Skatingonthinice never produced a stakes winner, but her Seattle Slew son, Chief Seattle was a very talented juvenile, who was second in both the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Skatingonthinice was also half sister to Showering (by Miswaki), who was a stakes winning Canadian speedster, scoring from 4½ to seven furlongs. When bred to Perfect Soul , Showering produced Perfect Shower, winner of the Canadian classic Breeders’ Stakes at 12 furlongs on the turf. Another half sister to Showering, the Criminal Type daughter Nina Ashley, was exported to Peru where she was graded placed, and subsequently produced grade one winner Maeto.
The Factor’s third dam, Rain Shower, was a minor stakes placed daughter of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) hero Bold Forbes. Out of the Rasper II mare, Right as Rain, Rain Shower was half sister to a quartet of stakes winners in Gala Lil, Gala Double, and Gala Forecast (all by the Maryland sire Spring Double), and Seed the Cloud. It’s Seed the Cloud’s granddaughter, Rizzi Girl, who besides The Factor, is the only other graded winner under the first four dams, an honor she achieved in the Hillsborough Stakes (gr. III).
The Factor is rated A+ on TrueNicks on the basis of the cross of War Front with mares by Mr. Prospector, and his sons and grandsons, which has so far produced four stakes winners from 23 starters (17% stakes winners to starters), and he also has Irish stakes winner Warning Flag out of a mare by Mr. Prospector’s great-grandson, Unbridled's Song. War Front is himself a product of the Northern Dancer/Mr. Prospector cross, and The Factor’s dam, Greyciousness is by a son of Mr. Prospector out of a mare by Icecapade (three-quarters related to Northern Dancer), so is a reverse cross to War Front.