08/29/2011 1:49PM

Del Mar: The Factor puts himself back in big picture

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Shigeki Kikkawa
The Factor, with Martin Garcia riding, wins the Pat O'Brien.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Six months later than intended, there may be a big race at Churchill Downs for The Factor.

Derailed from a potential start in the Kentucky Derby because of a hairline fracture of a hind ankle, The Factor returned from a four-month layoff to win Sunday’s Grade 1 Pat O’Brien Stakes for sprinters at Del Mar. The win left co-owner George Bolton hopeful that The Factor can start in a Breeders’ Cup race at Churchill Downs in November – the Sprint over six furlongs or the Dirt Mile, run around one turn.

“If he holds together, we could think of the [Dirt] Mile or the Sprint,” he said.

In the Pat O’Brien, The Factor fought for the early lead with Smiling Tiger for the first half-mile before pulling clear under jockey Martin Garcia to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Camp Victory. Before the race, trainer Bob Baffert predicted that The Factor would lead, and told Garcia not to worry about the pursuing rivals.

“Bob said, ‘Don’t look back. They will be there the whole time,’ ” Bolton recalled.

The Pat O’Brien was The Factor’s first start since a seventh-place finish in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 16. His injury was detected after that race.

The owners and Baffert considered sending The Factor to Saratoga for Saturday’s King’s Bishop Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters, but opted to stay in California. Quick workouts by The Factor on Del Mar’s Polytrack synthetic surface played a role in the decision, Bolton said.

“He was training so well it was scary not to run him here,” he said. “It was the smart move to stay and not have to ship.”

Bolton and Baffert said two Grade 1 races over six furlongs are being considered for The Factor – the $350,000 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 1 or the Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 8. Baffert has Euroears, the winner of the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar in July, as a candidate for those races, too.

“The next race will be against older horses,” Bolton said of The Factor’s plans. “It won’t get any easier in the Vosburgh or Ancient Title. We needed to get going.”

Sheikh joins local action

Pearl Bloodstock, the racing operation of Sheikh Fahad Al Thani of Qatar, has its first starter in California on Wednesday when the English import Miss Zooter starts in an optional claimer over five furlongs on turf.

Sheikh Fahad, a member of the Qatari royal family, has risen to prominence in European racing in the last few years, acquiring a 40-horse stable, including the private acquisition of Strong Suit, the winner of the Group 2 Lennox Stakes in England this summer. Strong Suit is considered a long-term prospect for the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs in November.

In addition, Sheikh Fahad, through the Qatar International Portfolio Company, a Qatari investment fund operated by members of the royal family, has backed a series of bonuses attached to major stakes in England for 2011 and 2012, the QIPCO British Champions Series.

Miss Zooter joined trainer Ben Cecil’s stable last winter, but was hampered by minor injuries, such as sore shins earlier this year, Cecil said. Wednesday’s race will be Miss Zooter’s first start since an eighth in the October Stakes at Ascot last September. Miss Zooter has 3 wins in 9 starts.

“She’s got some ability,” Cecil said. “Five furlongs is a little short. We have to get a race into her.”