If Bob Baffert had an extra week to prepare The Factor, he probably would have shipped him to Saratoga for a showdown with Uncle Mo in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop (gr. I). As it turned out, he felt like the $250,000 Pat O’Brien (gr. I) Aug. 28 at Del Mar was the better spot and so the son of War Front will have to settle for a confrontation with West Coast star Smiling Tiger instead.
The Factor will face five older horses in the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien as he makes his first start in more than four months on Sunday. The Pat O’Brien is one of three graded stakes on Del Mar’s card that is headlined by the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I). Post time is slated for 3 p.m. PDT.
The King’s Bishop would have been no easy spot for The Factor, but the Pat O’Brien is no cakewalk either, as he will face older horses for the first time while coming off a minor ankle fracture. Smiling Tiger is a three-time grade I winner, Crown of Thorns is a classy foe who was a close second in this race a year ago, and Caracortado is grade I stakes-placed four times.
Owned by Fog City Stable and George Bolton, The Factor has been working sensationally at Del Mar for his return, including a sizzling six-furlong breeze in 1:10 on Aug. 20. Winner of consecutive races earlier this year including the seven-furlong San Vicente (gr. II) and two-turn Rebel (gr. II) , the gray/roan colt has been off since finishing seventh in the April 16 Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
The Factor has been in the spotlight ever since he broke his maiden in track record time at Santa Anita in December. A $250,000 2-year-old purchase, he was bred in Kentucky by H & W Thoroughbreds and is out of the Miswaki mare Greyciousness.
Martin Garcia will have the mount and they will break from post 4.
Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz’s Smiling Tiger is about as consistent as they come, hitting the board in all but one of his 17 starts including eight wins. The 4-year-old Hold That Tiger colt is 3-for-6 this season, with back-to-back scores in the Feb. 19 San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) at seven furlongs and the Count Fleet Handicap (gr. III) in April at Oaklawn Park.
In early July, the chestnut colt romped by 3 1/4 lengths in the Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park and last out was second to Baffert’s Euroears in the July 31 Bing Crosby (gr. I) at Del Mar. He was third in this race a year ago, and though he has finished in the money in all of his Del Mar starts, is just 1-for-5 on its Polytrack. That lone win came in the 2010 Bing Crosby.
Trainer Jeff Bonde will call on Joel Rosario to ride Smiling Tiger.
Spendthrift Farm’s Crown of Thorns has a winning effort sandwiched between a pair of dull dirt tries in three starts this year. The win came in the May 7 Mervyn Leroy Handicap (gr. II) on Hollywood’s Cushion Track, which was his second graded stakes success. Last out, the 6-year-old Repent horse was seventh in the June 18 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
The talented but often-injured Crown of Thorns missed by a half-length to El Brujo in the 2010 Pat O’Brien off a nine-month layoff, one of four grade I runner-up finishes in his 11-start career. Garrett Gomez will ride for Richard Mandella.
California-bred Caracortado, who is cross-entered in the Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT) on Saturday, has just one win from six starts this season but has not run poorly in any of them. The versatile Cat Dreams gelding notched his win in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita and though he has not been back to winner’s circle, he missed by a neck in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) in July.
Caracortado will make his first start at Del Mar in his 17th try. The Michael Machowsky trainee recorded his only graded win in the 2010 Robert B. Lewis (gr. II).
Completing the lineup is Camp Victory, the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) winner who was second to Smiling Tiger in the Triple Bend last month, and Don Tito, fifth in the San Diego Handicap (gr. III).
$250,000 Pat O'Brien (gr. I, Race 5, 3 p.m.), 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs (Polytrack) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Don Tito (FL), A Quinonez, 119, J W Sadler
2. Caracortado (CA), V Espinoza, 119, M Machowsky
3. Camp Victory (VA), J Talamo, 119, M R Mitchell
4. The Factor (KY), M Garcia, 120, B Baffert
5. Smiling Tiger (KY), J Rosario, 123, J Bonde
6. Crown of Thorns (FL), G K Gomez, 121, R E Mandella