JC / Railbird

The Factor

Guessing Game

Three weeks from the Kentucky Derby, and about all that’s safe to predict is that the winner won’t be predictable. With yesterday’s wins by 25-1 Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby and 19-1 Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass, the average win mutuel of the last four Grade 1 preps works out to $35.45. In the Arkansas Derby, if you had the ten-cent super, you cashed for almost $3000. In the Blue Grass, you signed for more than $6400. Jaycito, redirected to the Lexington after missing the Santa Anita Derby because of a foot problem, now sits on the Derby earnings bubble with $250,000, and jockey Corey Nakatani, second with Nehro at Oaklawn yesterday, has his choice of Derby mounts, but Calvin Borel has none. It’s anyone’s year.

The Factor was the latest favorite to falter. Taken out of his element from the start, out-hustled to the front by JP’s Gusto and Dance City, The Factor finished seventh as the 4-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby. I didn’t think the colt was a nine-furlong horse, much less a 10-furlong one, but I expected he’d be a pace factor at Churchill and it was a shame to see how little he did when taken back. Trainer Bob Baffert said The Factor may have flipped his palate. (In which case, he’s out of the Derby? “We’re just going to see how he’s doing.” Just like that, Midnight Interlude becomes Baffert’s best chance.)

All the upsets along the Derby trail have left Dialed In, the only prospect one of only two prospects* to have won two graded preps this spring, as the most consistent of the bunch and the likely Kentucky Derby favorite. (“I mean, who else?” said Derby oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.) Forgive me if I’m not wild with enthusiasm about a horse who won the Florida Derby by a nose dueling a 68-1 shot and running a final eighth in more than 13 seconds. And there is the matter of how trainer Nick Zito plans to bring Dialed In to the Derby with only one workout between April 12 and May 7, done in seclusion at Palm Meadows.

“Pardon me for being a wee bit cynical and not buying it,” writes Jeremy Plonk. “The last time seclusion and serenity were used as reasons for staying at Palm Meadows, 2010 would-be Derby favorite Eskendereya turned up lame.”

Pure speculation about Dialed In, of course, just as it is that Uncle Mo, diagnosed with an intestinal infection after the Wood, is being treated with antibiotics and still not feeling so hot, based on a Facebook update:

I want to run in the Derby sooooo bad!! Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike said ONLY if I’m 100%! I know they have my best interests at heart. I’m taking my medicine (I hate the taste)!!! Uncle Todd says if I take it, he will let me go out and play with my friends. I galloped today, and felt great. I’m eating a lot but not as much as Uncle Todd and Uncle Mike would like.

Hm … I don’t know what I’m going to do with this week’s PDI top 10.

If there were any chance he’d ship to Churchill Downs, I’d make Frankel #1 off his glorious romp in the Greenham at Newbury at Saturday (replay). In his first start of the year, and only 80% according to trainer Henry Cecil, Frankel brought his undefeated record to five with the four-length win. He’ll start next in the Guineas in two weeks, the overwhelming favorite.

*Thanks to o_crunk for the correction. Archarcharch is the other dual graded prep winner headed to Churchill. I assume The Factor is no longer a Derby prospect, but if he were, he’d be the third to have won two graded preps.

8:20 PM Addendum: Apparently, The Factor is going to Kentucky. The Derby, maybe. Beyer speed figure of 98 for Archarcharch in the Arkansas Derby, 89 for the not-so Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass.

The Factor’s Figure

A preliminary Beyer speed figure of 103 for The Factor in the Rebel Stakes, the sole graded Kentucky Derby prep this weekend. As DRF Derby tweeted, that figures ties “with Soldat for best Beyer by a 2011 3-year-old going mile or longer.” Soldat just happens to be the other War Front colt on the Derby trail, casting doubt on claims by pedigree handicappers that The Factor can’t get the Derby distance. Count me among the skeptical, but on the matter of pace, not breeding. The Derby isn’t kind to front-runners.

Trainer Bob Baffert said that the April 16 Arkansas Derby is a likely next start, but that all options are open to The Factor. “I could go anywhere. He’s nominated everywhere. You never know where I’m going to go.”

Mike Watchmaker favorably compares the Rebel to the Azeri Stakes, impressively won by Havre de Grace: “… you can argue that The Factor had the more demanding trip, and yet still ran almost as fast as Havre de Grace.”

Mo In, Dialed Out

Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole announced today that Uncle Mo will make his much anticipated 3-year-old debut in the ungraded one-mile Timely Writer at Gulfstream on March 12. “We both feel that the Timely Writer will set him up perfectly for the April 9 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct,” said Repole. There could hardly have been less suspense to the news: From the first report that a race other than the Tampa Bay Derby — which Pletcher and Repole said was still possible if the Timely Mo doesn’t fill — it’s seemed a foregone conclusion that the softer spot for getting started would be the pick. I don’t doubt that the Gulfstream racing secretary is already hustling entries.

One horse that won’t be drawn is Dialed In. Trainer Nick Zito — sounding miffed, reading between the lines — said the Holy Bull winner would pass on the Fountain of Youth this weekend, and with the distance of the Timely Writer shortened from nine furlongs to eight, would also skip that race in favor of another, unspecified, two-turn start, reports Mike Welsch:

“Fortunately, he has enough graded earnings from winning the Holy Bull that it looks like he’ll get into the Derby, so our main focus at the moment is the Florida Derby and how to get him there,” Zito said.

Record-setting San Vicente winner The Factor — who won’t be seen going a route soon — isn’t the only good horse trainer Bob Baffert has sent to work at Hollywood Park. On Monday, Jaycito, prepping for the San Felipe at Santa Anita on March 12, worked seven furlongs handily from the gate in 1:24.80 over the Cushion Track. Does the colt also need the quiet found there?

The most impressive sophomore winner of the weekend just past was Bind, given a 105 Beyer speed figure for his debut at the Fair Grounds on Saturday. Along with Cal Nation, Pletcher’s flashy first-timer at Gulfstream last month, he’s not one likely for the Kentucky Derby. “If you all get [owner] Seth [Hancock] to do it, I’ll ride that train, but I’m not going to ask him,” Claire Novak quotes trainer Al Stall telling media after the race. Bind’s next start likely will be a one-other-than allowance at the Fair Grounds or Keeneland.

Reunited: NBC will air all three Triple Crown races this spring.

Weekend Figures

The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated with weekend results. Beyer speed figures of 102 for The Factor and 100 for runner-up Sway Away in the San Vicente at Santa Anita yesterday; 94 for Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Saturday; 83 for Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the same distance over the same track; 95 for It’s Tricky in the Busher Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday; 89 for Archarcharch in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Monday.

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