OLDSMAR, Fla.—Sabrina Machado Chin’s Asterace Group LLC’s Faction Cat’s previous start was a harbinger of what was yet to come on Saturday. The 7-year-old chestnut gelding seems to get better with age, and inspires confidence in his connections. And the son of Wildcat Heir validated his owners’ and trainer’s thinking, and did so in impressive fashion. Faction Cat established a new course record for five furlongs on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs, covering the distance in 53.97 seconds. It was faction Cat’s first stakes victory.
“The way he ran here last time, when he was on the inside, and he doesn’t like the inside, and he ran a really fast time just outside the track record, the way he was training then, and the way he was training now, I knew he would step up,” said Georgina Baxter, Faction’s Cat trainer.
The Florida-bred had finished second in the Janus Stakes on Dec. 28, 2019 at Gulfstream Park. It was Faction Cat’s ninth start at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, fifth consecutive win at the Oldsmar-based racetrack and he’s never finished worse than third in any of his previous starts at the oval, suggesting a deep predilection for the track. Faction Cat had won an allowance race his last time out by 4 ¼ lengths at the five furlong distance on January, 24, 2020.
“We knew he was a nice horse,” said Baxter. “I wanted to run him Pegasus Day. The owners were right in their theory. They wanted to give him a confidence boost. I know he likes Tampa.”
It was Baxter’s first visit to the Oldsmar, Fla.-based oval, although she has a division at Tampa, scoring her fifth win of the current meet. It was her first stakes victory at Tampa Bay Downs, although the horse that gave Baxter her first graded stakes score, Lady’s Island, won the Minaret Stakes the previous Saturday, having been moved to the barn of Gerald Bennett for the race.
Faction Cat would meet a familiar rival Saturday, one who he had lost to when their previous meeting was moved to the main track.
“Extravagant Kid only beat him a length-and-a-half last time (in the Janus Stakes),” said Baxter. “It was on the dirt, it came off the grass. Even Jose Ortiz said, ‘If it had been on the grass it would’ve been a different story.”
It was Baxter’s first visit to the Oldsmar, Fla.-based oval, although she has a division at Tampa, scoring her fifth win of the current meet.
“I’m so happy for the horse and the connections,” said Baxter. “Yeah, he’s special.”
Baxter and Brendan Walsh were both assistant trainers in Eddie Kenneally’s barn at the same time. Walsh sent Extravagant Kid postward Saturday, being sent off as the second choice, with Faction Cat being held as the third choice in the wagering.
“It’s always very satisfying,” said Baxter. “A sibling rivalry, I love beating him. I told him I would give him a run for his money today, I was speaking to him two days ago.”
It was the first time jockey Albin Jimenez had ridden Faction Cat, with the gelding making his 33rd career start in the Turf Dash.
“I called his agent this morning and said, ‘Make him watch replays,’” said Baxter.
The race unfolded almost perfectly, leaving little doubt who the winner would be. Jimenez currently sits atop the jockey standing at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., having ridden at the Tampa Bay Downs meet in previous years.
“The horse is a really nice horse,” said Jimenez. “It looked like he really loved this turf. I was very confident. He’s a very classy and nice horse. I felt like I had plenty of horse.”
The connections for Faction Cat haven’t decided where his next start may be, said Baxter.
“We usually let the horses decide…we let the horse come out of the race,” said Baxter. “We never really make plans. We just kind of take it as it comes. See how he comes out of the race. He seems to like it here. He likes this track.”
Faction Cat had previously been campaigned by trainer Gerald Bennett and had raced in the silks of Randall R. Russell.
“It was a confidence boost,” said Baxter. “We bought him, and then we ran him in two stakes races. He ran so good. He finished third in the Claiming Crown (Canterbury Stakes on Dec. 7, 2019 at Gulfstream Park). I felt like this horse was going to improve. He was putting on muscle, putting on weight the whole time. He was thriving and training better and better. Then we ran him back and finished second to Extravagant Kid (Janus Stakes), but it came off the turf, and he really dug in.”
By Ben Baugh