The Factor has been installed as the solid 7-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) as 13 3-year-olds were entered for the $1 million race April 16.
Returning to Oaklawn Park, where he produced a resounding 6 1/4-length win in last month's Rebel Stakes (gr. II), The Factor drew post 3 when entries were taken April 13 for the 1 1/8-mile event.
The gray/roan son of War Front could bring trainer Bob Baffert his first win in the Arkansas Derby, a race won the past three years by horses that also shipped in from Southern California: Line of David (2010), Papa Clem (2009), and Gayego (2008). Martin Garcia retains the mount on The Factor.
The Arkansas Derby, which is the 11th event on a 12-race program, helps bring to a close the 2011 live racing season in Hot Springs, Ark. It is set to go off at 5:58 p.m. CDT.
The Factor, owned by Fog City Stable and George Bolton, arrived at Oaklawn April 12 for his return engagement. The brilliantly fast colt simply ran his rivals into the ground in an impressive Rebel win March 19, setting a fast pace when unopposed on the front end and accelerating away in the homestretch.
He is currently at the top of many prognostications for this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and a win in the Arkansas Derby would make him the presumptive favorite on the First Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. The question he'll continue to face, however, is how far can he carry his speed?
The Factor, named for Bill O'Reilly's television show, needs a strong effort to move on to the Derby May 7, according to co-owner Bolton.
"He's just gotta do well that last eighth mile for us to go to Churchill in three weeks," Bolton said. The Derby distance is 1 1/4 miles.
Baffert wasn't thinking Kentucky Derby for The Factor early on because of his early speed. But the colt has continued to excel as the race distances became longer.
"After his maiden win, Bob just couldn't slow him down," Bolton said. "He had a bruised foot and was working rank. But after (winning) the San Vicente, he started to calm down and Bob said, 'Look, this horse is starting to figure it out and starting to not be rank in the workouts.' I think he can stretch out if that happens. His stride is so good and he's so efficient."
The Factor has won three in a row for Baffert and is attempting to become the only 3-year-old this season to win three graded Derby preps. He won the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita a month before the Rebel.
The field The Factor will face is probably the deepest of the 3-year-old season thus far. It includes Nehro and Elite Alex, second and fourth, respectively, in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II); Rebel runner-up Caleb's Posse ; Southwest Stakes (gr. III) winner Archarcharch, third in the Rebel; Brethren , third as the prohibitive favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III); and Sway Away, looking rebound from a rough trip in the Rebel.
Zayat Stables' Nehro is 5-1 on the morning line and drew the rail, where he will have Elite Alex right next to him. The Mineshaft colt, trained by Steve Asmussen, was a big surprise in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds March 26 when he was sent off at 36-1 odds. He lacked racing room at the quarter pole but rallied impressively in the final furlong to miss by a neck to Pants On Fire.
Asmussen has won the Arkansas Derby twice: in 2007 with Curlin and in 2002 with Private Emblem. The lightly-raced Nehro has only a maiden win in four lifetime starts. Corey Nakatani has the call, replacing Michael Baze.
Elite Alex, a son of 2005 Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex , was last of 12 in the Louisiana Derby for much of the trip, but rallied while extremely wide at the quarter pole to miss by 4 1/4 lengths. Trained by Tim Ritchey (who conditioned Afleet Alex) for Charles Zacney's Elite Alex partnership, the fast-developing bay colt ran third in the Southwest Stakes prior to the Louisiana Derby.
Calvin Borel is back aboard Elite Alex, who will race with blinkers for the first time. They are 8-1 on the morning line.
Batman Stables and partners' Sway Away, also donning blinkers for the Arkansas Derby, was forced to steady early in the Rebel and raced wide as the second choice to The Factor. He is pegged at 6-1 for the return. Sway Away, another son of Afleet Alex trained by Jeff Bonde, closed much ground on The Factor in the seven-furlong San Vicente before losing by less than a length.
Patrick Valenzuela arrives from Southern California to partner with Sway Away, replacing Garret Gomez. They drew post 5.
Also looking to rebound in the Arkansas Derby is Brethren, trained by Todd Pletcher. WinStar Farm's Distorted Humor colt gave way in the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby at mid-stretch as the 1-2 choice and wound up third, 3 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Watch Me Go. The latter was a big disappointment in the Illinois Derby (gr. III) when favored April 9.
Brethren, a four-length winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa prior to that, also gets blinkers this time. Ramon Dominguez retains the mount on the 10-1 morning line hopeful.
Pletcher, who won the Arkansas Derby in back-to-back years with Graeme Hall and Balto Star in 2000-01, also entered Dance City for the Estate of Edward P. Evans. The Virginia-bred son of City Zip won his past two starts at Gulfstream Park over maiden and first-level allowance foes and makes his stakes debut.
Caleb's Posse (10-1) was no match for The Factor in the Rebel but was the best of the rest after rallying five wide to get up by a neck over Archarcharch. The son of Posse won Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes in the fog in January and rebounded from a sixth-place finish in the Southwest Stakes with a much-improved effort in the Rebel. Eddie Razo Jr. is back aboard.
Caleb's Posse, a Don McNeill homebred, is part of a Donnie K. Von Hemel-trained entry along with Pin Oak Stable homebred Alternation . The Distorted Humor colt is on a three-race winning streak, including a third-level allowance win by 3 1/4 lengths at Oaklawn in his most recent try Feb. 21. This would be Alternation's first stakes attempt, and he'll have regular rider Luis Quinonez.
Robert Yagos' Archarcharch could not keep pace with The Factor in the Rebel after stalking the leader from the rail and was tagged late for second by Caleb's Posse. Trained by Jinks Fires, the son of Arch handily won the one-mile Southwest at 14-1 prior to that by one length over J P's Gusto.
The latter also tries blinkers for trainer Joe Petalino after a flat seventh-place effort in the Rebel. Second in the Southwest, the Successful Appeal offspring is 15-1 on the early line after going off at 7-2 in the Rebel.
$1 Million Arkansas Derby (gr. I, Race 11, 5:58 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Nehro (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, S M Asmussen, 5/1
2. Elite Alex (ON), C H Borel, 118, T F Ritchey, 8/1
3. The Factor (KY), M Garcia, 122, B Baffert, 7/5
4. Brethren (KY), R A Dominguez, 122, T A Pletcher, 10/1
5. Sway Away (KY), P A Valenzuela, 118, J Bonde, 6/1
6. a-Caleb's Posse (KY), E Razo Jr., 122, D K Von Hemel, 10/1
7. Truman's Commander (KY), I Ocampo, 118, N P Zito, 30/1
8. a-Alternation (KY), L S Quinonez, 118, D K Von Hemel, 10/1
9. Dance City (VA), J Castellano, 118, T A Pletcher, 15/1
10. Archarcharch (KY), J K Court, 122, W H Fires, 12/1
11. J P's Gusto (KY), M C Berry, 122, J Petalino, 15/1
12. J W Blue (KY), J Rocco Jr., 118, A W Dutrow, 30/1
13. Saratoga Red (KY), T J Thompson, 118, D W Lukas, 30/1
a - coupled entry
Blinkers On: Elite Alex, Brethren, Sway Away, J P's Gusto