12/26/2011 8:48PM

Santa Anita: The Factor blows away Malibu foes in front of 44,519 on opening day

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Benoit & Associates
The Factor, ridden by Martin Garcia, romps by 3 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Malibu on opening day at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Both Santa Anita and The Factor came roaring back to life on Monday.

Santa Anita had a blockbuster opening day, with an ontrack crowd of 44,519 – the largest opener since 1994 – stuffing itself into the facility on a gorgeous afternoon.

And then in the final race of the day, The Factor, who had disappointed badly in his prior two races, reached back with one of his best efforts, romping to a 3 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1, $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds while blistering seven furlongs on dirt in 1:19.89, just .19 off the track record set by Twirling Candy last year’s Malibu.

“Just a great day,” said George Haines, the track’s president and general manager, as darkness fell on the track. “I’m very happy.”

So was Bob Baffert. The trainer of The Factor, Baffert won the Malibu for the first time. Baffert had talked often in the past week about having that hole on his resume, and he finally filled in the blank after losing with 20 prior starters.

The Factor ($7.20), the favorite in a field of 10, was one of four horses Baffert sent to the post. Racing Aptitude finished fifth, Hoorayforhollywood sixth, and Smash seventh.

It was Rothko, one of three runners sent out by Steve Asmussen, who rallied for second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Associate, who closed from last and nosed out Luckarack for third.

Centralinteligence finished last after taking an awkward step while vying for the lead three furlongs from home. He appeared intimidated being inside horses, and the stewards ruled that he was the cause of his own trouble and let the result stand following an inquiry.

Regular rider Martin Garcia was aboard The Factor, who set fractions of 22.61 seconds for the opening quarter, 44.61 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:07.92 for six furlongs. Though The Factor broke on top from his outside post, Centralinteligence rushed up inside him and had a brief lead before a quarter-mile was run as Garcia sought to keep The Factor comfortable.

“He was ready,” Garcia said. “I just wanted to let him be.”

Drawing an outside post was beneficial to The Factor, who faltered with inside draws in his two prior starts. He faded to fourth in a field of six in the Ancient Title here in October, then stopped badly and finished eighth of nine in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.

“He likes this track, and he had been training really, really well,” said Baffert, who had sent The Factor to Hollywood Park for recent workouts because “he seems more relaxed there.”

“He’s back to the horse we thought he was,” Baffert said.

The Factor, a son of War Front owned by George Bolton and the Fog City Stable of David Shimmon, has now won five times in nine starts. His victories include the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar, the Grade 2 San Vicente and Rebel, and a maiden race on last year’s opening-day card in which The Factor set a six-furlong track record of 1:06.98.