LOUISVILLE — About a year and a half ago, owner Jim Stone decided to go back to his roots.
When Stone founded his Stoneway Farm in La Grange back in 1998, one of the first horsemen he trusted with his stock was the venerable trainer Bernie Flint.
After parting ways with Flint professionally and going through by his estimation about 54 other trainers over the last decade, Stone came back to the Kentucky-based conditioner last season to see whether they could recapture some old magic.
Judging by Saturday's Grade III Bashford Manor Stakes, the rekindled partnership might be better than the original.
Exfactor, one of two horses in the race owned by Stone and trained by Flint, inspired some big words and even loftier dreams on the part of his connections when he rallied from last in the seven-horse field to take the $111,500 Bashford Manor by 23/4 lengths over Power World at Churchill Downs.
For all the prior experiences Stone and Flint enjoyed when the latter first trained for Stoneway Farm more than 10 years ago, standing in the Churchill winner's circle with a graded stakes-winning juvenile about tops them all.
Considering this year's Breeders' Cup is being held at Churchill Downs in November, Flint and Stone were understandably tickled at the thought of what might lie ahead for the handsome gray Exfactor.
"It's a pleasure to have something like that in the barn and ... Mr. Stone must be congratulated for having enough faith in me to come back to me and give me a chance," said the 71-year-old Flint, who previously won the Bashford Manor in 2008 with Screen Your Friend. "I said to him, 'Do you think I can still do it?' It is really a joy to win at home but it's an even bigger joy to have a really good 2-year-old. He's a special horse."
Exfactor finished second in his career debut on May 14 to Sum of the Parts — who went off as the 4-5 favorite in the Bashford Manor. Flint, however, was still encouraged because he typically does not have his horses fully cranked first time out.
Sure enough, the son of Exchange Rate came back to take a 51/2-furlong maiden test at Churchill by 41/2 lengths on June 9 in front-running style.
Despite being on the lead that time, Flint told jockey Calvin Borel to have Exfactor take back in the Bashford Manor while his stablemate Bonaparte prompted the pace on the front end. Though Bonaparte was unable to make the front as planned, Exfactor still had ideal fractions to close on after being sent off at odds of 5-1 as Friscan sizzled through fractions of :21.59 and :45.61.
"He's versatile and I knew they would have a little speed up front," said Borel, who rode five winners on Saturday's card. "I think he's that kind of horse who down the road will do bigger things. I let him break and was just comfortable and he just gave me that punch. I was very impressed."
As the field began to close on Friscan, Exfactor and Borel advanced on the outside and were circling rivals five-wide on the final turn. The two continued on down the middle of the lane to overtake the lead at around the eighth pole and finished in 1:10.30 for the 6-furlong test.
"Bernie and I always communicated well and ... I was taught more by Bernie than any individual horseman," Stone said. "We're back and we're having fun. It's a joy and whatever comes after this, it's just a pleasure."
Friscan faded to third, 11/4 lengths behind Power World, who was making his second career start after winning first time out for trainer Neil Howard. Sum of the Parts tired late to come home fourth as the beaten favorite.
"He's just a young horse and tried too hard," said Leandro Goncalves, jockey for Sum of the Parts. "He just needs to learn to relax."
The Bashford Manor represents the first graded stakes of the season for 2-year-old males and, in his third career start, Exfactor stamped himself as one of the division's early buzz horses. The gray colt will likely make his next start in Saratoga with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as the ultimate target.
"He's probably one of the better two year olds I've ever trained," Flint said of Exfactor. "Everyone was thinking he was going to the front and we sent the other one (Bonaparte) and I took him back. I'm trying to make a good horse out of him and I figured he was our best shot.
"If I can keep him coming from behind like that, we've got the Breeders' Cup right here. This late in your life, you don't usually get the opportunities like this."