SOUTH (Arkansas, Louisiana) / THE FACTOR STREAKS INTO KENTUCKY DERBY 137 PICTURE WITH ROMP IN OAKLAWN’S REBEL – One of the most discussed questions on the road to the 137th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) was emphatically answered by The Factor during his victory in Saturday’s running of the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park.

George Bolton and Fog City Stables’s speedy gray-roan son of War Front proved that a victory at a two-turn distance is well within his scope. The latest star from three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert’s stable passed his first distance test with ease in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel as The Factor jumped to the lead out of the starting gate and opened a clear advantage under jockey Martin Garcia on his run down the backstretch. The Factor shrugged off a challenge at the head of the stretch and drew off easily to score comfortably by 6 ¼ lengths in a winning time of 1:42.19 over a fast track.

The colt’s previous wins had come in a sizzling six-furlong maiden victory in late December at Santa Anita and last month’s Grade II San Vicente over the same track at seven furlongs.

“It was pretty amazing what he did today,” Baffert said. “This was a more demanding track than Santa Anita and he probably got more out of this than any race so far.”

The Factor, named in honor of Fox News television host and author Bill O’Reilly, could return to the Hot Springs, Ark. track for a run in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) at 1 1/8 miles on April 16.

“Right now I’d say we would probably come back,” Baffert said. “He clearly could have gone a mile and an eighth today.”

Longshot Caleb’s Posse rallied for second, while Southwest (GIII) winner Archarcharch finished third.

Saratoga Red finished fourth, and was followed by J W Blue, Sway Away, J P’s Gusto, Picko’s Pride and Blue Grass Jam. Sway Away, the second betting choice, had previously run a strong second to The Factor in the San Vicente, but was never prominent in the Rebel.

The start of the race was delayed when Alternation, a Donnie K. Von Hemel-trained stablemate to Caleb’s Posse, was scratched after he reared in the starting gate and suffered what appeared to be a superficial cut on his leg.
Baffert won last year’s Rebel Stakes with Lookin At Lucky, who would finish sixth to Super Saver as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but won the Preakness and was named the Eclipse Award champion 3-year-old of 2010.
MUCHO MACHO MAN TOPS BAKER’S DOZEN IN LOUISIANA DERBY – Risen Star (GII) winner Mucho Macho Man was installed as the strong 9-5 morning line favorite when a field of a baker’s dozen 3-year-olds was entered on Sunday for Saturday’s 98th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds.

Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team I Racing’s Florida-bred son of Macho Uno drew post five for trainer Kathy Ritvo and will be ridden in Saturday’s race by Rajiv Maragh.

Courtlandt Farm’s Machen, who suffered his first career setback in a fourth-place run in the Risen Star, drew post seven and was installed as the 7-2 second choice. Edgar Prado, who guided Barbaro to victory in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, will ride Machen trainer Neil Howard. Wilkinson, the Howard-trained winner of the Lecomte (GIII) for Gallardia Racing LLC, will break from post 10 and is listed as an 8-1 risk under jockey Garrett Gomez.

Elite Alex, who was scratched after drawing an outside post in Oaklawn Park’s Rebel in favor of a Louisiana Derby bid, also had bad luck at the post draw in New Orleans. The son of 2005 Preakness (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Alfeet Alex drew post 12, and the 6-1 shot in the morning line will be ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel.

The field for the Louisiana Derby, from the rail out (with jockey, morning line odds), includes: Nacho Business (Joe Bravo, 10-1), Pants On Fire (Rosie Napravnik, 10-1), Nehro (Michael Baze, 30-1), Mavericking (Shaun Bridgmohan, 20-1), Mucho Macho Man, Liondrive (James Graham, 50-1), Machen, Majestic Harbor (Corey Lanerie, 12-1), Le Mans (Robby Albarado, 20-1), Wilkinson, Left (Jesse Campbell, 10-1), Elite Alex and Populist Politics (Richard Eramia, 30-1).
The Louisiana Derby undercard will feature the second career start by Adele Dilscheider and Claiborne Farm’s Bind, who scored a head-turning 9 ½-length victory in his six-furlong debut at Fair Grounds on Feb. 19. The Al Stall Jr.-trained Pulpit colt is among seven 3-year-olds entered in a mile and 70 yard allowance race scheduled as the fourth event on a 14-race program.

FLORIDA / ROGUE ROMANCE OFF DERBY 137 TRAIL; CAL NATION COMES UP SHORT – A foot fracture has knocked Catesby Clay’s Rogue Romance off the road to Kentucky Derby 137.

Trainer Ken McPeek revealed Saturday that the son of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones had suffered a fracture in his left forefoot. The fracture was discovered after Rogue Romance worked an easy three furlongs at Gulfstream Park.

X-rays of the ankle were sent to Dr. Larry Bramlage in Kentucky, who diagnosed the fracture and advised that the injury, while not career-threatening, would require two to three months of stall rest. McPeek had initially pointed Rogue Romance toward the Louisiana Derby, but he backed away from that that plan a few days ago.

“This came up a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve been trying to hunt it down,” McPeek told Daily Racing Form. “It’s terrible timing, and it’s very disappointing.”

Rogue Romance finished third to Kentucky Derby favorite and 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo in the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) last fall at Churchill Downs.

CAL NATION UPSET BY PLETCHER STABLEMATE DANCE CITY – University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari enjoyed a better Saturday that the 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopeful named in his honor. While Calipari’s Wildcats staged a second half rally to upend West Virginia and land a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, WinStar Farm’s Cal Nation came up short in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

Cal Nation, the 1-5 favorite following a dazzling 7 ¾-length win in his racing debut on Feb. 5, lost by a nose to Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate Dance City. The favorite, ridden by John Velazquez, challenged Dance City at the head of the stretch and stuck his head in front as the Pletcher duo dueled to through the stretch. But Dance City and Javier Castellano battled back to earn the narrow decision. Bowman’s Causeway finished third.

EAST (Maryland, New York) / BANDBOX TAKES PRIVATE TERMS, BUT NO ‘DERBY FEVER’ FOR JENKINS – Hillwood Stable’s odds-on favorite Bandbox rallied past pacesetter Rush Now in the stretch to win Saturday’s $75,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Race Course, but the win did not infect trainer Rodney Jenkins with a case of the springtime malady known as “Derby Fever.”

But Jenkins is thinking about a May 21 run in the $1 million Preakness (GI) for the improving gray son of Tapit.

“He definitely won’t go the Derby unless [Hillwood’s] Ms. [Ellen] Charles insists and I know she won’t,” Jenkins said. “She’s the best owner in the whole world. It’s great for her to have a horse like this. We’re not going to rule the Preakness out. The horse is doing good. We might give it a shot.”

Bandbox covered a mile over a fast track in 1:37.25 as he won by 1 ½ lengths under jockey Travis Dunkelberger. No Easy Answer rallied for second and Tap Star finished third.

WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / STONESTREET’S MACLEAN’S MUSIC SPARKLES IN DEBUT – In a 2011 3-year-old crop notable for spectacular early victories by the likes of champion Uncle Mo, Rebel Stakes winner The Factor and relative newcomer Bind, Maclean’s Music now suddenly sits atop the list of this crop’s numerically spectacular first winners.

Stonestreet Stables LLC’s son of Distorted Humor out of multiple stakes winner Forest Music led from the break on Saturday at Santa Anita in a sizzling 7 ¼-length victory at six furlongs under Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Smith. The Steve Asmussen trainee increased his lead at every point of call over a fast track and posted a scorching winning time of 1:07.44.

The effort earned a Daily Racing Form Beyer Speed Figure of 110 for Maclean’s Music, who was not an early nominee to the Triple Crown. Uncle Mo earned a 102 Beyer figure in his winning 2010 Saratoga debut, The Factor was assigned 108 when he won in his second start in December at Santa Anita, and Bind received a hefty 105 Beyer for his Feb. 19 debut at Fair Grounds.