ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 17, 2011) – Following last weekend’s muddling of the West Coast’s Derby picture, trainer Bob Baffert’s record-setting The Factor will be among nine 3-year-olds aiming to elevate their status on Sunday in Santa Anita’s 70th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs.

Tapizar and Comma to the Top, both proven graded stakes winners, were odds-on favorites in Santa Anita’s Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes and Golden Gate’s Grade III El Camino Real Derby last Saturday when they tumbled. Tapizar’s Santa Anita and Kentucky Derby plans were subsequently dashed when a bone chip was discovered in his knee following the Lewis.

Into this void steps The Factor, one of the most hyped 2-year-olds of last year when making his maiden debut at 3-5 odds on Nov. 28 at Hollywood Park. With Joel Rosario aboard, he broke well, but was taken off the pace, shuffled back and wound up a non-threatening fourth.

When the gray colt named for the Fox News program “The O’Reilly Factor” resurfaced in a six-furlong race on Dec. 26, Santa Anita’s opening day, he put on a devastating performance.

With Rafael Bejarano in the saddle, The Factor defeated a solid maiden field by 8 ¼ lengths in 1:06.98, which broke the track record. Santa Anita’s new dirt surface may have been playing especially fast at the time, but the display was remarkable under any circumstance.

“Put him on the lead,” Baffert had instructed Bejarano beforehand. The Factor’s pace-setting fractions were 21.62, 44.11 and 55.42. When Baffert saw the final time on the tote board, he wondered if a light bulb had blown out in the “6.”

“He’s a horse we’ve always been very high on,” said Baffert. “He has a lot of potential. The first race, we didn’t want him going too fast, but the jockey kind of grabbed him, and then he got boxed in and had no chance. We never got a chance to see how he could run. This time, he was just bouncing over the track. He came back after the race and didn’t even take a deep breath.”

Baffert, along with the racing public, will get a more thorough appraisal of The Factor when he makes his stakes debut Sunday with the trainer’s “go-to” rider, Martin Garcia taking the reins. “It was his horse from way back, and he gets along with the horse very well,” Baffert explained of the change. Following the Breeders’ Cup in early November, Garcia spent approximately 70 days in his native Mexico while getting his visa renewed. “Rafael rode him fine, but Garcia has done a lot for me,” said the Hall of Fame trainer.

In surveying his current crop of 3-year-olds, the three-time Kentucky Derby winner commented, “Last year, we had a cannon (Lookin at Lucky). That’s what you hope for, a cannon. I’m not sure yet, but The Factor looks like a cannon. He’s brilliant.”

A son of War Front, The Factor was purchased for $250,000 by the Fog City Stable and George Bolton at last May’s Barretts Sale. He was named by Bolton, who is a regular O’Reilly Factor viewer.

Eleven winners of the San Vicente have gone on to take the Santa Anita Derby including Sidney’s Candy last year. The Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby will be contested on April 9.

Unbeaten Premier Pegasus, a Grade III stakes winner, is expected to provide a capable measuring rod for The Factor. Owned, bred and trained by Myung Kwon Cho, Premier Pegasus has performed impeccably in three starts.

The son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus broke his maiden last summer at Del Mar while sent off at odds of 44-1. He won Oak Tree’s Jack Goodman Stakes at odds of 5-1 before returning to Hollywood Park to take the Grade III Hollywood Prevue at odds of 2-1.

Like The Factor, Premier Pegasus seems to do his best running on the lead. According to Alonso Quinonez, the bay colt’s regular rider, he has become more relaxed with each start. Each win has been by one length or more while earning $125,400 for Cho.

Baffert has entered another swift colt, Sinai, in the San Vicente. Bejarano will ride the Zayat Stables’ gray who finished a troubled third in the San Pedro Stakes on Jan. 17 after gamely breaking his maiden at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18.

Indian Winter, upset winner of the San Pedro at odds of 10-1, returns on Sunday with Martin Pedroza back aboard for trainer and co-owner Jerry Hollendorfer. The son of Indian Charlie has won 2 of 3 starts. His only setback was a third-place finish behind J P’s Gusto and Jaycito in the Grade I Del Mar Derby last summer.

The complete field for the San Vicente, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Surrey Star, Mike Smith, 118; Metropolitan Man, Patrick Valenzuela, 118; Sway Away, Garrett Gomez, 118; Sinai, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Indian Winter, Martin Pedroza, 118; City Cool, Joseph Talamo, 118; The Factor, Martin Garcia, 118; Premier Pegasus, Alonso Quinonez, 120, and Oakcrest Drive, Victor Espinoza, 118.

The San Vicente has been carded as the eighth race on a nine-race program with first post at 12:30 p.m.