When he put in the claim slip for Factor This a year ago at Saratoga, trainer Brad Cox did so believing there was stakes-winning potential within the colt that just needed the right scenario to surface. Even after watching the 4-year-old drop his first three starts for his new connections, Cox still saw enough intangibles from the bay son of The Factor to keep the faith that bigger, better days were within his reach.
In his last three outings, Factor This has indeed become the latest charge to further validate his conditioner's ability to judge horseflesh. On Sunday, the free-running colt got that coveted black-type on his resume when he held off respective surges from Botswana and My Boy Jack to take the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup by a head at Ellis Park in course-record time.
The 1 ¼-miles Kentucky Turf Cup was one of five turf stakes races on the card serving as stepping stones to the five-day Kentucky Downs meet. A total of $2,782,933 was wagered across the country at Ellis Park on Sunday, up 36 percent over last year's inaugural preview day.
Factor This earned himself the opportunity to dive into even deeper waters after racking up his third consecutive victory – all coming on the turf. After winning the race in which Cox claimed him for $62,5000 on behalf of owners Gaining Ground Racing, Factor This suffered losses in the Caesars Stakes and Jefferson Cup Stakes to close out his 2018 campaign.
After being given a near six-month freshening, a dirt experiment was tried with Factor This only to have him squash that idea when he ran seventh in his seasonal bow at Oaklawn Park March 1. Since returning to the turf beginning with an allowance win at Keeneland on April 24, the colt has gotten the front-end trips he desires and results to match.
“We claimed him last year and we thought a lot of him when we claimed him,” Cox said. “He gave us a couple decent starts but he was somewhat of a heavily-raced horse going into late last year so we thought, let's freshen him up and bring him back for a 4-year-old campaign. We flirted with the dirt because he's had some success and some experience on the dirt, but we found out quickly at Oaklawn that's not a surface he wanted to do. We brought him back to the grass and here we are. He's 3-for-3 on the grass this year.”
Having already guided Totally Boss to a course-record in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint earlier on the card, jockey Florent Geroux decided to close out his day with another milestone ride aboard Factor This. After letting 2-1 favorite Hello Don Julio have his way up front through an opening half-mile in :49.28, Factor This urged Geroux to let him take command of things on the backside.
“He's a horse who likes to be forwardly placed,” Geroux said. “He broke sharp today and….he started getting keen on the backside and I didn't want to fight and have him pulling too hard. So I just opened my hands and let him go a little bit and made sure he was relaxed.”
Staying in that rhythm proved key for Factor This as he battled to maintain his advantage when the 10-horse field set down for the stretch drive. Botswana nearly pulled off the upset at 36-1 with his sustained run but both he and My Boy Jack couldn't keep the Factor This from reaching the wire first in a final time of 1:59.12, breaking the previous mark of 1:59.60 set by Ye Slew in 1994.
“It looked like the 10 horse was going to go by me but my horse fought very hard to the wire,” Geroux said. “I was able to regain the lead the last few jumps.”
Added Cox, “It was a huge effort, he ran his eyeballs out. Florent did a great job, kind of took over the race going up the backside. He settles when he has daylight it seems like. He seems to relax when he's on the lead kind of having things his own way.”
Botswana got his head down over My Boy Jack for place honors with the latter finishing a length clear of Zero Gravity in fourth.
“Aw, goodness. He ran his heart out, you can't get mad at him,” said Bentley Combs, trainer of Botswana. “He's been a lot of excitement for us.”
“You know, we kept running,” said James Graham, jockey of My Boy Jack. “Maybe I rode him a little too patient, but that's the way he likes to run. He got beat a head for the whole thing. They never skipped away from him. I was happy. There was no traffic in his way. I just rode him too patient, you know.”
Factor This now boasts seven wins from 21 starts with $364,630 in earnings. Cox said the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs on September 7 would be under serious consideration for the colt's next start, though he relishes the fact that he now has ample options to consider.
“We will look at (Kentucky Downs), we'll nominate to everything that makes sense and go from there,” Cox said. “He's a very nice horse and he's in great condition. He really appreciated his break over the winter and he's really responded this year.”
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