03/04/2006 12:00AM

Brother Derek draws off easily in Santa Catalina

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Brother Derek solidified his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite by taking the Santa Catalina.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The distances will increase, the competition will get stronger, and the pressure will mount over the next few months for Brother Derek and his connections. For now, though, all they are concerned about is taking the proper steps toward the Kentucky Derby, and on Saturday at Santa Anita, Brother Derek did just what was required.

Brother Derek had a perfect, stalking trip under Alex Solis, took command on the far turn, and drew away to a convincing, 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 for 3-year-olds. Sacred Light, a 19-1 shot, rallied for second, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Latent Heat, the race's second choice.

The victory was the third straight for Brother Derek ($3), and kept him unbeaten in races around two turns. Nine weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, he retains his position as the ante-post favorite. There was so much money bet to show on Brother Derek that there was a minus show pool of $28,502.09

The only worry with Brother Derek will be whether a laceration he incurred on the outside of his left front ankle turns into anything significant. Brother Derek came back from the race with the cut, which did not appear to be very deep, and looked as though it was above the coronet band and below the tendon. It should not amount to anything, but nonetheless will bear watching over the next few days.

The race itself was a flawless performance. Brother Derek broke inward a bit at the start, bumping with Objective, but then was righted by Solis and moved up three paths wide to stalk Latent Heat and Mister Triester through fractions of 23.27 seconds for the opening quarter and 46.31 for a half-mile.

Brother Derek was tugging at the reins entering the first turn, relaxed better for Solis going into the backstretch, but then was keen to do more heading into the final turn. Solis finally gave Brother Derek his cue midway around the turn, and he put away Latent Heat and Mister Triester. Solis merely showed Brother Derek the whip in the final yards, preferring to save something for more important tasks in upcoming months. Brother Derek completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:41.96.

"He really won it very easy," Solis said. "That's what I had in my mind, not to squeeze him."

In the winner's circle, trainer Dan Hendricks told Solis that Brother Derek was at about 90 percent.

"If he was only 90 percent, that's mighty exciting," Solis said.

Brother Derek, a California-bred colt by Benchmark, has now won 5 of 7 starts. He is owned by Cecil Peacock, a Calgary, Alberta, oilman who purchased Brother Derek for $275,000 one year ago at the Barretts 2-year-olds in training sale.

Hendricks said Brother Derek would continue on his long-planned itinerary, which includes the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 8 as his final stop before heading to Churchill Downs.

"It worked out really good," Hendricks said. "We had him a little fresh by not doing as much work."