The Factor ran away with Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and jumped right into the thick of Kentucky Derby contention.
Shipped east from Santa Anita by trainer Bob Baffert, the War Front colt went right to the lead, set a brisk pace and then easily separated from the field in the stretch, eventually winning by 6 1/4 lengths. He got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.19.
Caleb's Posse looked like a threat turning for home. He couldn't keep up with The Factor but was the best of the rest with Southwest Stakes winner Archarcharch checking in third. The other California shipper, Sway Away, who finished a half length back of The Factor in the San Vicente last month, was never a factor Saturday and finished sixth. J P's Gusto flattened out in the stretch and got home a tiring seventh.
The Factor won for the third straight time in his first try around two turns.
"It was pretty amazing what he did today," Baffert said. "I was a little worried coming over from Santa Anita because the track there is much lighter. This was a more demanding track. I think he probably got the most out of this than any race so far."
Baffert said he "probably" will bring The Factor back for the $1 million Arkansas Derby April 16.
"He is really that fast," winning rider Martin Garcia said. "He surprises a lot of people. He doesn't look like he's going as fast as he is. Nobody was going to catch him today."
The Factor is out of the Miswaki mare Greyciousness. Miswaki, a son of Mr. Prospector, also sired Black Tie Affair, the 1991 Breeders' Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year, and the great mare Urban Sea, victor in the 1993 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Urban Sea also produced two of the recent European greats -- Galileo and Sea the Stars. The Factor's sire is by Danzig.
Elsewhere on the Derby trail:
-- Bandbox sat off the early speed of Rush Now in Saturday's $50,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park, got by that one early in the stretch run and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Rush Now held second, 5 lengths ahead of No Easy Answer. Bandbox, a New York-bred Tapit colt out of the Grand Slam mare Empty the Bases, got the mile on a fast track in 1:37.25. Travis Dunkelberger had the mount on the odds-on favorite. Bandbox, who won the Charles Town Juvenile and Sleepy Hollow Stakes last year, is trained by Rodney Jenkins at Laurel Park. Nominated to the Triple Crown, he is now four-for-six lifetime but Jenkins said Bandbox will not go to the Kentucky Derby unless his owner, Ellen Charles, insists. "And I know she won't," he added. "She's the best owner in the whole world ... . We're not going to rule the Preakness out. The horse is doing good. We might give it a shot. We don't know where we're going next. I'll discuss it with her."
-- Two other top Kentucky Derby contenders worked out Sunday at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida. Stay Thirsty, the Gotham winner, went a half mile in 50 2/5 seconds. "It was a good work," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Most likely, it looks like him for the Florida Derby and Uncle Mo for the Wood." Fountain of Youth victor Soldat went 5 furlongs in 1:00 3/5 and also is likely for the Florida Derby.
In other weekend racing:
You couldn't ask much better than the field likely to contest Saturday's Dubai World Cup -- a true representation of the world's best horses. A well-matched field could produce a winner from the locals or from South Africa, Japan, Ireland, the United States, or England. Gio Ponti and Fly Down will provide the U.S. rooting interest. Gio Ponti was fourth in last year's World Cup and second to Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile in his last start. Fly Down finished behind only Blame and Zenyatta in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic. Likely favorites in the World Cup field include Twice Over and Bold Silvano, from England and South Africa, respectively. Japan's contingent also is dangerous. But if the World Cup itself isn't enough, the lineups for the supporting races also read like a "who's who" of divisional stars from around the world. Overall, it's the richest day of racing anywhere in the world and will set the stage for a good deal of the international competition for the remainder of the year.
Ambitious Dragon rallied smartly down the lane in Sunday's HK$16 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin. Xtension stayed to finish second, 3/4 of a length back, while Let Me Handle It was third, another 4 lengths in arrears. It was the fourth straight win for Ambitious Dragon and his second straight in a HKG1 event. "I am very, very happy," said winning jockey Maxime Guyon, who flew in from France for the ride. "He was a big favorite but he did everything I asked. I am so happy with him and so full of confidence, too, for future races. I only had to whip him once and I think he is sure to be an international G1 horse of the future." Trainer Tony Millard added, "Ambitious Dragon will definitely go for the (Audemars Piguet) QE II Cup on 1 May now and after that he'll have a spell. He's earned it, hasn't he? Not many horses progress from Class 4 to win the Derby, but he's done that."
The S$3 million Singapore Airlines International Cup to be run at 2,000 meters June 22, and the companion S$1 million KrisFlyer International Sprint over 1,200 meters, the Third Leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, have attracted 170 nominations from 13 countries. Of those, 110, including more than 20 Group 1 winners, were nominated to the Cup and 60, with 10 Group 1 winners among them, were named to the Sprint. Cup nominees include Cape Blanco, Gio Ponti, Presvis, Snow Fairy and Bold Silvano. Nominees to the KrisFlyer include Sacred Kingdom, Green Birdie, Rocket Man, J J the Jet Plane, Kinsale King and Unzip Me. "It is the strongest list of nominations we have had for the two races," said Mike Wanklin, vice president of racing and head of handicapping at the Singapore Turf Club. "The depth is well and truly there for both races."
Hilda's Passion, the odds-on favorite, led throughout Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Inside Information Stakes for fillies and mares, widening the margin through the stretch to score by 5 1/4 lengths over Amen Hallelujah. Stephanie Got Even finished third. Hilda's Passion, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Canadian Frontier filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:20.45 with Javier Castellano aboard. "She travels so smoothly that you don't realize how fast she's going," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "But when I saw the 44 (half-mile), and Amen Hallelujah inch up to her, I thought she might have a real race on her hands until she drew away in the stretch. Hilda's Passion came into the race off a victory in the Grade III Hurricane Bertie last month at Gulfstream and Pletcher said to look for her next in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. "It's also at seven-eighths. She's trained well over that track in the past," Pletcher said.
La Luna de Meil collared pacesetting Giant's Play at the 16th pole in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Orchid Stakes for fillies and mares, then was all out to prevail by a length over the favorite, Endless Expense. Giant's Play held third. La Luna de Meil, a 4-year-old, German-bred Monsun filly, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.76 with John Velazquez in the irons. It was her second straight win at Gulfstream since she was imported from Germany. "She's bred for the distance with that sire," winning trainer Graham Motion said. "She came to us at Palm Meadows in November … . One reason she was sent over is that there are so many more black-type opportunities for fillies and mares over here." He said La Luna de Meil likely will race next in the Grade III Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland April 28.
Tampa Bay Downs
Doubles Partner rallied four-wide down the stretch in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes and was up just in time to win a four-way photo. A neck separated each of the first four, with Rahystrada second, Voodoo Swinge third and Bearpath fourth. Doubles Partner, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Rock Hard Ten colt out of the Rahy mare Serena's Sister, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.67 with Julien Leparoux up. Michael McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, said the race "was textbook the way it shaped up. He was able to find some cover up the backside, and obviously bided his time around the turn. He was a little late switching leads, but he came home strong." McCarthy said Pletcher hopes to start Doubles Partner at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby weekend.
Juniper Pass pressed the pace set by Dahoud in Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes, finally got a short lead in the stretch and won a long battle to the wire by a half length. Imponente Purse was third and the favorite, Haimish Hy, settled for fourth. Juniper Pass, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Lemon Drop Kid, ran the 12 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 2:32.64 with Rafael Bejarano up. The race came off the grass and it was the first time Juniper Pass had raced on anything but the green stuff. Winning trainer Ray Bell said the timing of the race was more important than the surface. "The last thing I wanted to do was take on Bourbon Bay and Champ Pegasus again," he said, referring to the duo slated to face the starter next Saturday at Meydan in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic.
Mildly Offensive led most of the way to a 4 1/4-length win in Sunday's $100,000 Santa Paula Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Hout Bay rallied for second, well clear of Justenufappeal. Mildly Offensive, with Bejarano up, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:15.70. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Sharp Humor was moving right up to stakes company after an impressive maiden win. "It's always a little scary, the second race after a monster win," said victorious trainer Carla Gaines before the Santa Paula. After the race, she added, "She ran to our expectations."
Malibu Pier dueled her way to the lead in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Santa Ana Stakes, then held off the favorite, turning Top, to win by a length. Lilly Fa Pootz finished third. Malibu Pier, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon filly, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:48.05 with Bejarano up. She entered the race off a good third-place effort in the Buena Vista last month. "I gave her a little breather before I came to the turn, and then let her go," Bejarano said. "When I came to the top of the stretch, I let her shoot to the lead. She showed me a big kick. She was really good today."
La Nez collared the early speed in Saturday's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares after the field exited the hillside, then Saanneen to win by 3/4 of a length. The early leader, Logical Single, finished third. La Nez, a 4-year-old Storm Creek filly, got the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.70 with Martin Pedroza in the irons.
Havre de Grace got first run at the leaders in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Azeri Stakes, surged to a big lead in the stretch and easily held off the late bid of California invader Blind Luck. Absinthe Minded made the early going and held third. Havre de Grace, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Saint Liam filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.02 with Ramon Dominguez in the irons. "She did everything we expected her to," said winning trainer Larry Jones after Havre de Grace matched the stakes record for the distance. "She had trained very well. It was awesome. I wasn't planning on going out and equaling the stakes record, but that was a bonus that she did it fast. She's an incredible mare." Havre de Grace and Blind Luck, last year's champion 3-year-old filly, are expected to hook up again next month in the Apple Blossom over the Hot Springs oval.
Chief of Affairs led from the start in Sunday's $75,000 Hot Springs Stakes, was never seriously threatened and cruised home first by 2 3/4 lengths. Inkado chased the whole way to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Native Ruler. Chief of Affairs, a 5-year-old, Texas-bred Yonaguska gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.56.
Quantum Miss pressed the pace early in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Cicada Stakes, was put to the test a quarter mile out and drew off, then held off Coax Liberty to win by a half length. Dream took third with a prolonged drive. Quantum Miss, a Pennsylvania-bred Smoke Glacken filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.99 under Cornelio Velasquez. "Her performance kind of confirms what we thought all along," winning trainer Tony Dutrow said. "She's a 6-furlong filly. We're thinking about eventually running her in the Prioress (6 furlongs at Belmont Park on the Fourth of July) with something else in between."
Bonndaddy's raced near the back of the pack early in Saturday's $100,000 Mount Cristo Rey Handicap for New Mexico-breds, then came six-wide around the leaders with a late surge to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Key's Band held on for second by a head over Lester's Echo. Bonndaddy's, a 5-year-old B.G.'s Drone gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 51.30 seconds with Ken Tohill in tow.
Spinning Touch raced off the pace in Sunday's $120,000 New Mexico State University Stakes for state-breds, launched a bid around the turn for home and got clear late, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Silver Matthias. Lefty Who was third. Spinning Touch is a 4-year-old Touchdown Ky colt. He ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.12 with Freddy Fong Jr. up.
Wild About Marie saved ground into the stretch in Saturday's $60,000 Bienville Stakes for fillies and mares, came out for running room and got home first by 3/4 of a length over Mullins Beach. Chantilly Nayla finished third. Wild About Marie, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Wildcat Heir filly, finished the "about" 5 /12 furlongs on firm turf in 1:05.15 with Richard Eramia riding. "She broke sharp but I put her behind the speed," Eramia said. "Then I just waited for my spot. The horse ran a good race. She finished strong."
Baryshnikov opened a big lead at the top of the lane in Saturday's $50,000 Tejano Run Stakes, then coasted home first, 1 3/4 lengths better than the even-money favorite, Dean's Kitten. Mint Chip finished third. Baryshnikov, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Empire Maker, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.92 with Thomas Pompell up.