03/20/2011 12:53PM

The Factor is a Force

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It is still anyone’s guess as to whether he will be as effective when someone puts quality early pace pressure on him, or whether he can get 10 furlongs fast enough (in truth, every horse can cover 10 furlongs if you give them enough time to do it; it’s just that those who need 2 minutes and 20 seconds to do it aren’t going to win many such races). But in case there was any doubt, The Factor proved in winning Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park that he is a very serious 3-year-old, and is much more than the immensely promising sprinter he already was.

In his first start around two turns, and his first outside his home base of Southern California, The Factor bounded right to a daylight lead in the 1 1/16 mile Rebel, set a strong pace, and yet looked like he was running downhill in the stretch drawing off to score by just over six lengths. As impressive as those bare-bones facts are, however, The Factor’s Rebel performance takes on an added glow when compared to what established, championship-caliber horses did in the race that immediately preceded it.

One of the nice things about the way Saturday’s Oaklawn card fell was that the supporting feature, the Azeri Stakes, which was also at 1 1/16 miles, was run right before the Rebel. This meant that there would be little ambiguity in assessing the Rebel from a time standpoint because we had a race with established quality and at the identical distance run immediately before it.

Another nice thing about Saturday’s card was that the Azeri attracted the high-class pair of Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. Blind Luck was last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, but Havre de Grace was a divisional Eclipse Award finalist along with her. And though Havre de Grace narrowly won just one of her four meetings last year with Blind Luck, she was beaten only a nose, a neck, and one length in the other three starts against her rival. So, both were clearly cut from the same championship cloth.

In any event, The Factor’s Rebel performance compared very well to what turned out to be an emphatic victory by Havre de Grace over Blind Luck in the Azeri. The Factor covered the distance in 1:42.19, only 12 one-hundredths of a second slower than Havre de Grace did in her 3 ¼ length score. That The Factor’s time was as close to Havre de Grace’s is to his credit because, while Havre de Grace is a female, she is also an older horse, whereas The Factor is still a comparatively young, immature colt.

However, a case can be made even using the clock that The Factor’s performance was every bit as good, if not better, than Havre de Grace’s. The pace in the Rebel was faster than the pace in the Azeri (23.33, 46.77, and 1:10.98, vs. 23.64, 47.51, and 1:11.58). The Factor did the heavy lifting in the Rebel by setting that pace. Havre de Grace, meanwhile, sat a comfortable, off-the-pace stalking trip. In other words, you can argue that The Factor had the more demanding trip, and yet still ran almost as fast as Havre de Grace. For the record, The Factor’s Rebel received a preliminary Beyer Figure of 103, while Havre de Grace got a 105 in her Azeri.

Finally, a brief word about Havre de Grace and Blind Luck. Although there was obviously very little between them last year, there was always the sense, for me, anyway, that Blind Luck was clearly the better of the two. After watching the Azeri, instinct says the tables have turned. Blind Luck had the advantage of two starts already this year, so she was at top racing fitness, while Havre de Grace Saturday was making her first start in more than four months. When taken in that context, the sense is these two rivals could meet 10 more times this year, and Havre de Grace would win most of those battles.