03/17/2011 1:50PM

Rebel Stakes: The Factor tries to stretch his speed at Oaklawn

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – If The Factor shows the same brilliance routing that he has sprinting in the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn, he’ll emerge as one of the flashiest prospects on the road to the Kentucky Derby. If he fails to carry his speed, he could be exiting the Louisville-bound freeway Saturday.

“We’ll see if he can stay on the Derby bus,” said Bob Baffert, who trains The Factor. “If not, we’ll just get off. We feel he deserves one chance at it.”

The Rebel, at 1 1/16 miles, drew 13 entrants hoping to advance to the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16. Glint and Dreaminofthewin were scratched Friday morning, and on Saturday morning trainer Tim Ritchey said Elite Alex would also be withdrawn to run in next Saturday's Louisiana Derby. The Rebel field of 11 will have 10 betting interests. Bluegrass Jam and J W Blue will race as a mutuel field.

Sway Away invades from Santa Anita, where he finished second to The Factor in last month’s Grade 2 San Vicente. The top locals include J P’s Gusto, a Grade 1 winner of more than $500,000, Archarcharch, who won the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest over J P’s Gusto, and Alternation, who is seeking his fourth consecutive win Saturday.

The Rebel is half of a blockbuster stakes double at Oaklawn. The Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri will be the fifth matchup of champion Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. Together the races make for the most significant program of the meet to date. Last year, a crowd of 36,298 turned out to watch Lookin At Lucky take the Rebel, and in light of that the infield will be open to the public on Saturday if the forecast for partly cloudy skies and a high of 80 degrees holds.

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All figure to be chasing The Factor, with the biggest question being just how long the group will be looking at his hindquarters. He is the race’s dominant speed, and both his sire, War Front, and his dam, Greyciousness, won at the Rebel distance.

“You don’t want to go with The Factor,” said Joe Petalino, who trains J P’s Gusto. “There’s not anybody who’s going to go with The Factor and finish.”

The Factor’s San Vicente was a dazzling display of speed. He rolled through a half-mile in 43.40 seconds and wet on to win the seven-furlong race in 1:20.20. In the process, he defeated eventual Grade 2 San Felipe winner Premier Pegasus and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103. The number was just a few points below the 108 he put up in his second career start Dec. 26, when he won a six-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita in a track-record time of 1:06.80.

Baffert, along with the partnership of Fog City Stable and George Bolton, is hoping to see The Factor make a successful transition to two turns Saturday.

“It depends on what kind of pace he gets,” Baffert said. “He’s real fast. He’s one dimensional, a need-the-lead type. We’ll see what happens in the first turn.”

Baffert will be watching to see if The Factor settles for jockey Martin Garcia. He said if the horse runs well, he could return next month for the Arkansas Derby.

J P’s Gusto and Sway Away both have natural speed and could fall into tracking positions behind The Factor, which would keep them out of traffic in the large field. J P’s Gusto, whose four stakes wins have come on the front end, found himself farther off the pace than usual in the Southwest on Feb. 21. He did not have a clear run from the inside and was beaten a length as the favorite. Ramon Dominguez has the mount Saturday.

“The ideal trip would be to lay right off of them, but we’ll leave that up to Dominguez,” Petalino said.

Sway Away quickly diminished The Factor’s advantage in the San Vicente, when he closed fast from 10 lengths back. Garrett Gomez has the return call, for what will be Sway Away’s two-turn debut Saturday.

“The further the better for my horse,” trainer Jeff Bonde said.

Archarcharch can emerge as a leading Kentucky Derby prospect with a Rebel win. He showed talent in the Southwest, when he rolled to victory despite being four wide around the final turn. He earned a career-best Beyer of 89.

“We feel like he’s on the upgrade,” trainer Jinks Fires said. “We feel good about the race.”