24 hours after Uncle Mo made an impressive return to the races, albeit in a narrow loss in yesterday’s King’s Bishop Stakes, The Factor did him one better by winning the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien Handicap today at Del Mar. Making his first start since being diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his hind ankle more than four months ago, the son of War Front knocked heads early with the top class older sprinter, Smiling Tiger, through a blazing half mile in :44 1/5, before drawing clear to win by two impressive lengths.
Away since a disappointing 7th place finish as a big favorite in the Arkansas Derby, The Factor returned to the races with a vengeance. Ridden by Martin Garcia, the grey/roan colt took home his fourth victory in six lifetime starts today. Owned by George Bolton and Fog City Stable, and trained by Bob Baffert, The Factor raised his career earnings to $457,180. More than all of that though, The Factor has announced himself as a major force that will need to be dealt with come Breeders’ Cup. But let’s not look too far into the future yet, because today’s performance was large and very much worth savoring.
Racing from the inside, The Factor was pressured every step from the multiple grade 1 winner, Smiling Tiger. The match-up can be described as nothing less than two of the fastest horses in America going at it in fractions that could melt the best of horses. If ever a race was set up for one of the closers to come pick up the pieces, this was it. It proved to be no problem for the powerful three-year-old though. Considered one of the most talented horses since he broke his maiden in 1:06 4/5 on December 26 of last year, The Factor took over from his far more experienced rival turning for home and never looked back. Despite battling in such fast early fractions, his final time of 1:21 2/5 was only .39 seconds slower than the track record set by Lewis Michael in 2008.
The Pat O’Brien becomes the third grades stakes win, along with the San Vicente and Rebel Stakes, for The Factor, but clearly his most important. Not only was it his first grade 1, but it represents his first attempt against older horses … and all of this, after the extended layoff due to the ankle injury.
Yesterday we learned Uncle Mo was back, and today we most certainly learned that The Factor is back. He is a major and unique talent, and a horse you just need to watch whenever he races. Today’s performance was pure pleasure to watch. His connections say either the BC Sprint or the Dirt Mile will be his ultimate goal for 2011. Either way, you have to consider him a major factor. Things just got a whole lot more interesting.