The highlight of Saturday’s racing card will be a key prep race for the Preakness Stakes and the other Triple Crown races as several top three year olds face off in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The Factor, JD’s Gusto and Sway Away will compete in the 1 1/16 Grade 2 event with the outcome largely dependent on the pace of the race.
The Factor is the speed of the field as well as a 2-1 morning line favorite. He turned in a scorching fast performance in his stakes debut in the Grade II San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita in February and with his performance increased speculation that he’ll be pointed toward the ‘Run For The Roses’. What has observers excited about The Factor is his raw speed–he completed the 7 furlong San Vicente in 1:20.34 and won his 6 furlong maiden race at Santa Anita in a distance record 1:06.98 last December.
Trainer Bob Baffert has been guarded in his assessment of The Factor’s potential for the Kentucky Derby and other Triple Crown races all along, but said that the horse deserved a chance to prove he can carry his speed at a longer distance:
“We’ll see if he can stay on the Derby bus. If not, we’ll just get off. We feel he deserves one chance at it.”
Any decent handicapper could figure that The Factor will take the lead early and the rest of the field will let him and hope he fades down the stretch. Joe Petalino, trainer of JD’s Gusto confirmed this strategy:
“You don’t want to go with The Factor. There’s not anybody who’s going to go with The Factor and finish.”
Baffert pretty much agreed with Petalino’s assessment of The Factor, who’ll be making his two turn debut in the Rebel Stakes:
“It depends on what kind of pace he gets. He’s real fast. He’s one dimensional, a need-the-lead type. We’ll see what happens in the first turn.”
Both Baffert and Petalino declined to outline an ideal trip for their horse, deferring to their jockeys Martin Garcia (The Factor) and Ramon Dominguez (JD’s Gusto). Sway Away, a 5-2 second choice in the morning line, is also in the field and his trainer Jeff Bonde is optimistic that the added distance will be to his horse’s advantage. Sway Away closed well in a second place finish at the San Vicente with Garrett Gomez up top:
“The further the better for my horse”
None of the favorites’ connections were forthcoming with their future plans–win or lose–but a good showing would make next month’s Arkansas Derby back here at Oaklawn a likely choice.