08/31/2006 12:00AM

Brother Derek back, faces Bob and John

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The bar has been raised high. Bernardini has parlayed his Preakness victory into wins in the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes. Lawyer Ron came back last weekend to capture the St. Louis Derby. Discreet Cat romped last weekend at Saratoga. Showing Up took the Secretariat Stakes. Yes, many of the top 3-year-olds from the first half of the year have kept on motoring right through the summer.

Now it's time for two more familiar names to show if they are as good now as they were then. On Saturday at Del Mar, two of the spring's biggest stars make their comebacks, with the added intrigue of racing against one another.

Brother Derek, the popular winner of the Santa Anita Derby, and Bob and John, who won the Wood Memorial, compete for the first time since their Triple Crown races in the $100,000 El Cajon Stakes. Only three other 3-year-olds entered the one-mile race, but two of them - Da Stoops and Cindago - are fast enough, or showed enough promise in the first part of their careers, to suggest that they will have some say in the way the race unfolds.

Most eyes, though, will be on Brother Derek, who was considered the West's best Kentucky Derby prospect earlier this year. His Santa Anita Derby victory was his fourth straight. He was compromised by drawing post 18 in the Kentucky Derby, where he raced wide while finishing in a dead heat for fourth, then ran like a tired horse when fourth in the Preakness.

His trainer, Dan Hendricks, brought Brother Derek back home to California, took off his shoes, and gave him a nice, long freshening.

"He trained barefoot up until the last week or two. It's something I learned from Mandella," Hendricks said, referring to his mentor, trainer Richard Mandella. "It's a way for a horse to grow out his foot and toughen naturally. Some horses are high maintenance. Others, like Brother Derek, are never a problem; their feet don't chip."

The field

El Cajon Stakes
Purse: $100,000; 1 mile

PPHORSEJOCKEYWT.ODDS
1Da StoopsJ. Court1235-1
2Bob and JohnV. Espinoza1232-1
3Mr. KatzI. Enriquez12120-1
4CindagoC. Nakatani11720-1
5Brother DerekA. Solis1231-2

* Odds by Michael Hammersly

In recent weeks, Brother Derek has trained as sharply, Hendricks believes, as he did this spring. Most of his works have been termed "breezing" by the clockers, and that is a designation given sparingly in California.

Brother Derek drew the outside post in the field of five, which should give jockey Alex Solis the option of going to the front or sitting off Da Stoops or Cindago should they be intent on the lead.

"I'm not worried about the post in a five-horse field," Hendricks said. "The outside's just fine with us. We can see how the race unfolds."

Hendricks said Brother Derek is "training like he will" sit off horses if needed and not get too aggressive. "He's matured mentally," Hendricks said.

Trainer Bob Baffert nominated four horses to the El Cajon and eventually decided to enter Bob and John and Da Stoops, leaving Point Determined and Sinister Minister for upcoming spots. Point Determined was entered in Sunday's Del Mar Derby on turf.

Bob and John disappointed in his two races following the Wood Memorial. He was 17th of 20 in the Kentucky Derby, then was eighth of 12 when surprisingly sent off the lukewarm favorite in the Belmont Stakes.

Da Stoops, who starts from the rail, finished second as the 1-2 favorite in the Real Good Deal Stakes for California-breds on Aug. 11. He is a three-time stakes winner, however, and his early speed should make him a factor for at least part of the race.

Cindago is an intriguing comebacker. In just two starts late last year, he showed great promise. His lone win, a sprint against maidens at Santa Anita, came at the expense of Point Determined. He has a brilliant series of works for his return, but this will be his first start around two turns, and he still is eligible for a first-level allowance.

The field is completed by Mr. Katz, who won a first-level allowance race going two turns at Hollywood Park last time out on July 2.