The Factor

The Factor

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Baffert, Asmussen Carry Heavy Load in Malibu

Top trainers have seven of 11 entrants for Santa Anita's main opening-day feature.

There aren't many grade I races in California that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert hasn't won, but the Malibu Stakes is one of them. He'll take a mighty whack at Santa Anita's traditional opening-day feature with four entrants Dec. 26, including grade I winner The Factor .

Baffert cites the Malibu as the most notable omission on his seemingly endless list of stakes victories. Such stellar performers as Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Silver Charm, Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Misremembered , and Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) champion Midnight Lute  have failed him in the past.

This year's $300,000 Malibu, at seven furlongs, drew 11 3-year-old colts and geldings. Besides Baffert's quartet, there were three entered by trainer Steve Asmussen, who is wintering at Santa Anita for the second straight year.

Last of nine races on the opening day card, the Malibu has an expected post of 4:35 p.m. PST. There are three other stakes on the program. The Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIT), at one mile on grass, is contested immediately before the Malibu. Two divisions of the $100,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes are also scheduled, one for colts and geldings and one for fillies.

The Factor is far and away the most accomplished runner in the Malibu. In fact, the War Front  colt is the only graded stakes winner. But since winning the Pat O'Brien Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar Aug. 28, The Factor has flamed out in both the Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) and the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). In both races the speedy gray set a hot pace and weakened to finish out of the money.

Owned by the Fog City Stable and George Bolton, The Factor drew the advantageous outside post for the Malibu and will carry 123 pounds, five more than all of his rivals.

The Factor, to be ridden by regular pilot Martin Garcia, took a month off after his Breeders' Cup effort, in which he finished eighth. He has posted three solid works since then at Hollywood Park, most recently clocking a bullet six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 on the Cushion Track Dec. 17. He brings a record of four wins in eight starts and earnings of $472,180 into the Malibu.

Baffert's other entrants come into the race in sharp form.

Donald Dizney's Florida homebred Racing Aptitude is stepping way up off his 4 1/4-length triumph in a restricted overnight stakes over 7 1/2 furlongs on Hollywood's Cushion Track, earning a career-best (by far) Beyer Speed Figure of 105. Mike Smith rides the gelded son of Aptitude.

Hoorayforhollywood missed by a neck in the one-mile Delta Mile at Delta Downs Nov. 19, his third consecutive runner-up finish for owner/breeder George Krikorian. The Storm Cat colt broke his maiden at first asking in February by 3 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita. But he's had a couple of long absences since while dropping a pair of nose decisions in optional claimers prior to the Delta Mile. Garrett Gomez is aboard for the first time.

In his first start since finishing second in Calder's Carry Back Stakes (gr. II) in July, Kaleem Shah's Smash won a 6 1/2-furlong allowance test at Hollywood Nov. 27 with a 103 Beyer. He defeated Malibu opponent Centralinteligence by a half-length. The son of Smart Strike has three wins and two seconds in five starts and has recorded three Beyers of 103 in his brief career. Rafael Bejarano has the return call.

Asmussen's trio consists of Rothko, Wine Police, and Light Up the Score. Only Wine Police has prior stakes experience.

Padua Stable's Rothko, a son of Arch, has won three races in a row by a combined margin of 15 lengths since breaking his maiden at Saratoga in August. His most recent tally came in a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer in the mud at Churchill Downs that he won by 6 1/2 lengths Nov. 4. Corey Nakatani is aboard.

Rothko turned in a :59 4/5 five-furlong drill Dec. 18 at Santa Anita.

“Rothko is a nice horse,” Asmussen said afterward. “He’s got a big future. He’s worked really well here.”

Like Rothko, Millennium Farm's homebred Light Up the Score is making his stakes debut. The Even the Score  colt posted back-to-back scores at Churchill Downs last month, breaking his maiden on a sloppy track Nov. 3 and returning to blitz an allowance field by 2 3/4 lengths three weeks later. Victor Espinoza gets the call.

Wine Police, a son of Speightstown  owned by J. Kirk and Judy Robison, won the Distorted Humor Stakes at Saratoga in September and was most recently second in the Jimmy V Stakes on a sloppy Churchill Downs strip Nov. 4. Joe Talamo takes the reins.

Centralinteligence is another on the rise for trainer Ron Ellis. The Smarty Jones  gelding has had one start at Santa Anita, beating a first-level allowance field by 3 1/4 lengths Sept. 30.

Shipping in from New York is Associate, who has produced a pair of victories by a combined margin of 18 3/4 lengths since being claimed for $35,000 by trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. at Saratoga. This is the stakes debut for the son of Wando. Ramon Dominguez makes the trip to ride.

El Pocho, a Chilean-bred colt making his United States debut, and California-bred Luckarack, who sports seven wins in 16 starts but is taking a huge step here, round out the field.

$300,000 Malibu Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 4:35 p.m.), 3YOs, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. El Pocho (CHI), K Krigger, 118, R Cardenas
2. Centralinteligence (KY), J Rosario, 118, R W Ellis
3. Luckarack (CA), H I Berrios, 118, D F O'Neill
4. Rothko (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, S M Asmussen
5. Racing Aptitude (FL), M E Smith, 118, B Baffert
6. Hoorayforhollywood (KY), G K Gomez, 118, B Baffert
7. Light Up the Score (KY), V Espinoza, 118, S M Asmussen
8. Smash (KY), R Bejarano, 118, B Baffert
9. Associate (KY), R A Dominguez, 118, R E Dutrow Jr.
10. Wine Police (KY), J Talamo, 118, S M Asmussen
11. The Factor (KY), M Garcia, 123, B Baffert