Noting the tendency for frontrunners to stick around until the end at Sunland Park, Bob Baffert has selected the $800,000 Sunland Derby as The Factor’s next likely race. The nine furlong affair is a Grade 3, so the winner will earn more than enough money to punch his ticket for the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, trainer Jeff Bonde is also considering sending his top Derby hope, Sway Away, out of town to test him on a less speed favoring dirt track at Oaklawn Park.
Why so much interest in these two colts who have never run beyond seven furlongs? Anyone who witnessed Sunday's San Vicente Stakes knows the answer. Rated as the best Derby prep to date on Horse Racing Nation's Kentucky Derby Super Screener, the San Vicente was fast, real fast.
Santa Anita's speedy surface favored front-runners all day, and The Factor was more than willing to take advantage. Gunned to the lead from the break by jockey Martin Garcia, The Factor blazed through a half mile :43.41, including a blistering second quarter in 21.21 seconds, which left him alone on the front. He then proceeded to draw clear at the top of the lane, before being asked a little late to hold off a flying Sway Away. Way back early, Sway Away closed with great fury to finish a clear second, beaten only 3/4 of a length for the win. Granted Santa Anita has been a super highway ripe for fast times this Spring, but The Factor's final time of 1:20.34 was impressive nonetheless, and became a new San Vicente record.
I see Sway Away as a major threat in ten weeks, while The Factor may only prove to be a ticket burner if he makes it there at all. Sway Away is attractive because of his breeding and his running style. The son of Afleet Alex should only get stronger as the distances become longer, and it impresses me how well he already looks sprinting. In longer races, I would expect him much closer to the pace early depending on the pace, and still able to be finishing strongly in the late stages. Meanwhile,The Factor is likely a one-turn horse. Baffert himself is worried about his ability to relax enough to handle a route of ground. In nine furlong races like the Sunland Derby, he may still be tough to catch if he is not bothered too much early, but the Derby would simply feature too much contention early to leave a horse like him with any chance. Of the two, Sway Away is the one to watch in Louisville.
In other Derby doings, Gourmet Dinner and Astrology headlined today's workouts: