The Brock Talk

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Factor Fights Favorite Failures and More In Arkansas Derby

It has not been a good season for favorites in the grade 1 prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands.

Most notably, Uncle Mo finished third in Saturday’s Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. 1) Saturday at Aqueduct in what was described by track announcer Tom Durkin as the biggest upset since Secretariat. Further south, Soldat finished a dismal fifth as the 3-2 choice behind winner Dialed In in the Florida Derby (gr. 1) while the 2011 Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) could easily borrow from a Saratoga moniker as the graveyard of favorites.

This year’s Santa Anita Derby lost not one, but three favorites. Morning line favorite Premier Pegasus was the first to be withdrawn after a hairline fracture was diagnosed just days before the race. The Bob Baffert-trained Jaycito took over as the favorite but a foot abscess forced him to be scratched on the Friday before the race. When the dust and scratches finally settled before the race, Silver Medallion inherited the roll of post time favorite but then finished fourth behind winner Midnight Interlude at 13-1.

In the world of logic and reality, those races and their upsets thereof, should have absolutely no impact on the Arkansas Derby this Saturday, one of the last two grade 1 prep races on the road to the Kentucky Derby along with the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes the same day at Keeneland.

Arkansas Derby morning line favorite The Factor, has enough challenges ahead of him on Saturday. A natural speedster who trainer Bob Baffert has likened to a runaway train, The Factor will likely have some company during the early stages of the Arkansas Derby - something he has not dealt with since his only loss, a race against maidens in his first start in November. The Todd Pletcher-trained Dance City has shown he likes the lead in winning a maiden and allowance race at Gulfstream Park racing on lead more often than not. Another from the Pletcher barn, Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. 3) winner Brethren also likes to lead the pack from the start.

If by chance The Factor is unable to relax early and use up energy against the aforementioned front runners, there are several closers waiting in the wings.

The Steve Asmussen-trained Nehro was just a neck short of defeating Pants on Fire in the grade 2 Louisiana Derby while racing from a stalking position and having to fight for running room down the stretch. He also broke his maiden two starts back at Oaklawn, coming from as far back as 11th, some 12 lengths behind the winner, so the son of former Horse of the Year Mineshaft has repeatedly shown he can make a late move.

Another closer, Sway Away, may have bounced when running sixth behind The Factor in the Rebel Stakes (gr. 3), also at Oaklawn. A month earlier in Southern California, Sway Away’s late rally fell less than a length short of chatching The Factor in the seven furlong San Vincente.

Trip handicappers looking for an Arkansas Derby winner will be looking closely at Elite Alex. A son of 2005 Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex, the Tim Ritchie trainee was very wide in both the Louisiana Derby at Fairgrounds and the Southwest Stakes (gr. 3), races in which he was fourth and third respectively.

The final hurdle The Factor may have to overcome is that of genetics. I say “may” because we can only suspect that sons and daughters of The Factor’s sire, War Front, will have similar running tendancies and War Front was a solid, multiple, graded stakes winning sprinter. On the bottom side of The Factor’s pedigree, his dam is by Rubianno, a champion sprinter.

The folks at Claiborne Farm, home to War Front, have certainly had their celebrations and toasts to War Front during this, his first crop of 3-year-old runners. Other War Front get Soldat and Summer Soiree are both headed to Kentucky for Kentucky Derby week. Soldat for the Derby and Summer Soiree is headed for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1). Soldat won the 1-1/8 mile Fountain of Youth Stakes, so that works in The Factor’s favor in trying the same distance for the first time in the Arkansas Derby. But the genetic question remains and will get asked again should The Factor succeed in Hot Springs.

Based on other major Kentucky Derby prep races this year, one may suggest there is a cosmic influence that has so cursed the favorites. But even if the more sensible examine Saturday Arkansas Derby, it appears 7-5 morning line favorite The Factor has plenty of adversity – star alignment or not.

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