ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 20, 2011) – The Factor, whom Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert likes to think of as his 3-year-old “cannon,” blasted the competition in his first graded stakes venture Sunday with a stylish three-quarter-length victory over Sway Away in Santa Anita’s 70th running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes while racing seven furlongs in 1:20.34 over a surface termed “wet fast.”

On the meet’s opening day, Dec. 26, the gray colt named for Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated Fox News program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” had virtually streaked away from his rivals while breaking his maiden by 8 ¼ lengths and setting a track record of 1:06.98.

But on Sunday, The Factor demonstrated a measure of maturity. With Martin Garcia aboard for the first time in the afternoon, the 9-10 favorite yielded the lead out of the gate to City Cool during a moderate first quarter in 22.20. The Factor took the lead after a quarter mile and controlled the pace down the backside with an accelerated half in a blazing 43.41.

Turning into the stretch with a two-length lead, he discouraged a bid by previously unbeaten Premier Pegasus, already a graded stakes winner. In the end, The Factor gamely resisted the hard-charging finish of 5-2 second choice Sway Away with Garrett Gomez in the saddle.

“He has a lot of speed and I know that horse inside of me (City Cool) had a lot of speed, too,” Garcia said in recounting his journey. “I just let him break by himself. The more you fight, the more he’s going to take off. He doesn’t want to be behind horses, so I just let him be comfortable and he kept going. He is still learning. This is only the third time he has been out. I think the more he runs, the better he will get. And I don’t think any horse can keep up with him, as fast as he went.”

Baffert, who has saddled the winners of three Kentucky Derbies, and four Santa Anita Derbies, wasn’t sure just what might be next for the son of War Front purchased for $250,000 by the Fog City Stable and George Bolton at last May’s Barretts 2-year-old-in-training sale.

“One thing about George, he’s very patient,” said Baffert in reference to Bolton, who named the horse for O’Reilly’s show. “He’s been in this game a long time and we’ll wait for The Factor to tell us when he’s ready to jump back into the fray. It’s hard to get a horse like this. They don’t come around very often.”

“He’ll benefit from this race,” Baffert noted, but would not commit to a next start even though he’s on record as saying he would keep The Factor at Santa Anita in the near future. Remaining stakes possibilities include the Grade II, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 12 and the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9.

Sway Away, who also was making his third start on Sunday, rallied from last, 11 lengths behind, to gain the place. They wound up 2 ½ lengths ahead of third-place Premier Pegasus and jockey Alonso Quinonez. “This horse is the best (Kentucky) Derby chance I’ve had in many years,” said Jeff Bonde, who trains Sway Away. “He probably could have used one more work and he maybe got back a little too far today, but he showed me enough that I’m still a believer in him.”

The Factor paid $3.80, $2.80 and $2.40. Sway Away paid $3.60 and $2.80. Premier Pegasus returned $3.60 to show. The winner’s earnings were elevated to $124,680 with the winning purse of $90,000.

Jockey Joel Rosario, who won a pair of stakes on Saturday, did not ride in the San Vicente, but he was victorious in four other races on Sunday to take a one-win lead over Rafael Bejarano, 49-48, in the meet’s jockeys’ standings.

Santa Anita presents a special holiday racing program on Monday’s Presidents’ Day with a nine-race card featuring a pair of graded stakes races: the Grade II Buena Vista Handicap and the Grade III La Habra Stakes. First post is at 12:30 p.m.