02/18/2011 4:20PM

All eyes on The Factor for encore performance in San Vicente


ARCADIA, Calif. – The spin stops, or starts again, Sunday at Santa Anita – right where it began two months ago when The Factor ran off the screen.

The most widely hyped 3-year-old in California reappears Sunday for his first start since a dazzling maiden win way back on Dec. 26. The Factor was out of sight, but he was never out of mind.

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“It took a month to get the 1:06 and 4 out of him,” trainer Bob Baffert said, referring to The Factor’s track-record 1:06.98 for six furlongs. “When they run that fast, you can’t run them back right away.”

For two months, The Factor did not run at all. Now the wait is over for the fastest 3-year-old in California. The Factor runs seven furlongs Sunday in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, a prep race for . . . well, what?

Baffert won’t talk Derby, even if everyone else wants him to.

“I don’t know,” Baffert said, asked about two turns. “I have to see what he does first. We’ll know more about him after this race. I mean, if he goes 21-and-3, 44-flat . . . you can’t do that.”

You can’t do that and win a Derby, and that is precisely what The Factor did in his record-setting second start. He popped the gate, went 21.62 and 44.11, and won by 8 1/4 lengths. His Beyer Figure was 108, revised upward from the original 102.

The performance ranks as the most dominant of winter by a 3-year-old of 2011. But it happened so long ago that eight others in the San Vicente figure they might actually have a chance to win the $150,000 stakes.

The field includes Sinai, a second Baffert starter who finished a troubled third Jan. 17 in the San Pedro Stakes; Sway Away, runner-up last summer in the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar before a knee chip ended his campaign; and Indian Winter, third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and upset winner of his recent comeback in the San Pedro.

Front-runners Premier Pegasus and City Cool will give The Factor pace pressure, while closers Oakcrest Drive and Surrey Star will pick them up late. Metropolitan Man is expected to scratch, according to his trainer.

The field is deep, though not as deep as the hype surrounding The Factor. And when the son of War Front went missing, some assumed he was cooked. Not so fast, Baffert said.

Owned by George Bolton and Fog City Stable, The Factor burned his heels training at Santa Anita.

“I was doing a lot of open gallops with him, and I think that’s why his feet got a little sore,” Baffert said. “He only missed three or four days of training. His feet are good now.”

Baffert sent The Factor to train at Hollywood Park “because it’s so quiet there.” He was careful to avoid comparison between the Hollywood and Santa Anita surfaces.

“It was more for the quiet,” Baffert said. “Here [Santa Anita] they get all revved up. He a quiet horse, but he gets aggressive.”

The Factor, named for Bill O’Reilly’s popular Fox news show, worked twice at Hollywood. including seven furlongs Monday in 1:24.40. The Factor was scheduled to ship to Santa Anita after training on Saturday morning.

The shift in training venue is not the only switch. Rafael Bejarano rode the colt in his maiden win; Baffert changed to Martin Garcia. Rider switches do not normally occur unless there is a scheduling conflict or a loss. Neither applies to The Factor.

“Martin seems to get along with these kinds of horses,” Baffert explained. “He’s really good at horses that are getting a little tough. He has really soft hands, he’s very light. If anybody can get them to slow down . . . if he can’t do it, nobody can. He’s not going to take him back.”

Garcia was working The Factor before his debut, but a visa problem prevented Garcia from riding the colt. He has since resumed working The Factor.

“He’s got a lot of speed, it feels like you’re not working fast,” Garcia said. “He’s not a big horse, but he’s strong.”

Baffert said he expects The Factor “to get a little tired” in the race. But he also believes the colt is special. Plans beyond the San Vicente will depend on how he runs Sunday.

“Sinai is a pretty nice horse, too,” Baffert reminded.

Bejarano rides Sinai, who is taking off blinkers. “He got a little rank, I’m trying to get him to settle,” the trainer said.

Sinai won his debut setting a slow pace at Hollywood, then finished a troubled third in the San Pedro.