While Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert filled a significant blank in his extensive resume by winning the Grade I Malibu Stakes with 5-2 choice The Factor, Santa Anita turned back the clock 17 years Monday with an opening day crowd of 44,579, its largest opening day throng since 46,904 attended in 1994.
Baffert entered four 3-year-olds in the field of 10 after citing the $300,000 Malibu at seven furlongs as the most glaring omission on his glistening record, but it was the enigmatic The Factor who rose to the occasion.
With Martin Garcia aboard, the gray colt with the name taken from Bill O’Reilly’s widely-watched cable news show put on quite a show while timed in 1:19.89.
Breaking on the extreme outside, The Factor went directly to the lead, but soon ceded it to Centralinteligence and stablemate Hoorayforhollywood. He regained the advantage nearing the far turn.
In the stretch, The Factor gamely resisted a challenge by runner-up Rothko, ridden by Corey Nakatani, before drawing off to win by 3 ½ widening lengths. Third-place Associate, the 7-2 second choice with Ramon Dominguez in the saddle, rallied for last to finish 2 ¼ lengths behind Rothko.
As a result, The Factor rebounded from a pair of performances that deeply disappointed Baffert. Following a victory in the Grade I Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar in August, The Factor faltered to fourth as the 2-5 choice in Santa Anita’s Grade I Ancient Title Stakes in October. One month later, he fell back to eighth at odds of 7-1 in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. Both races were run from the rail post position.
On Monday, he accomplished something 23 other runners from the Baffert stable, including three this year, failed to do. He won the Malibu. “It is a good feeling,” Baffert said.
He briefly reviewed The Factor’s recent efforts. “He ran great at Del Mar,” he said. “In the Breeders’ Cup, I thought he’d really run well, but he just couldn’t get untracked on that track at Churchill Downs that day. But he likes this track and has really been training well.
“It’s exciting to win the Malibu,’ Baffert continued. “It’s a great race, some great horses have won it, some great trainers. It was lacking on my resume. I can put it on my website tonight. When The Factor runs his race, it’s going to be tough to really beat him. The Factor we know showed up today.”
“He was really sharp and ready to win,” Garcia said. “Plus, he really likes this track. I decided to let him run and put me wherever he wanted to put me, and look at what he did. I don’t think there was a horse that could beat him today.”
The Factor paid $7.20, $4.80 and $3.60. Rothko returned $6 and $4. The show price on Associate was $3.60. The victory was The Factor’s fifth in nine starts. The winning purse of $180,000 raised his career earnings to $652,180 for owners Fog City Stable and George Bolton.
On a picture perfect day, the large crowd marked the first opening day crowd over 40,000 since 2002. It was up 30 percent over the previous year’s on-track attendance of 34,268. The on-track handle of $4,246,751 was an increase of 10 percent over 2010. The overall handle, $12,866,300, was up 9 percent.