04/05/2006 11:00PM

Brother Derek the 'scary' one

Brother Derek, the likely heavy favorite, has impressed his rider, Alex Solis.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Alex Solis has been on Brother Derek for all seven of his races and, this year, for most of his workouts. While Dan Hendricks has carefully crafted a training regimen designed to keep Brother Derek in top form while retaining his freshness for the demands of the spring, it is Solis who knows, better than anyone else possibly could, just how good Brother Derek feels as he prepares for the biggest races of his life.

"He's so good, it's scary. And I mean scary in a good way," Solis said. "Just when you think he's reached the top, he does things even easier. It's very amazing, every race he runs, every week that goes by, just how much stronger and better he's getting."

Brother Derek has been touting his fitness in his works, which have been fast yet seemingly effortless. And he has raced like he has trained, with victories this year in the San Rafael Stakes and Santa Catalina Stakes. As a result, he is the current favorite for the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

Brother Derek has won three consecutive races, has won all three of his starts at Santa Anita, and has won all four of his races around two turns. As a result, he will be heavily favored on Saturday in the Grade 1, $750,000 , which has drawn a field that is short on numbers but quite deep on talent.

There are six runners in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby. Four of them are currently ranked in the top 10 of Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch. In addition to Brother Derek, the nation's leading 3-year-old, the Santa Anita Derby has also lured A. P. Warrior, Point Determined, and Sacred Light.

Brother Derek and Sacred Light were the top two finishers in the Santa Catalina Stakes on March 4. A. P. Warrior and Point Determined were the top two finishers in the San Felipe Stakes on March 18.

"There's a lot of quality in this field," said Bob Baffert, who will send out Point Determined.

Only two others will challenge the Fearsome Foursome. Indy Wildcat, who scored his first win in four starts in the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park on Feb. 26, at least has moderate form and an attractive pedigree (by A.P. Indy) going for him. Wildfang, winless in three starts, most recently was second March 17 against $50,000 maiden claimers at 70-1.

The Santa Anita Derby is the sixth race on an 11-race card that begins at noon Pacific time. It is also the first leg of a pick six that has a guaranteed pool of $1 million. There was heavy rain here earlier in the week, but it was clear on Thursday, and the forecast was for dry weather through Saturday. Track officials privately are predicting a crowd approximating the 49,089 who turned out on March 4 to see both the Santa Anita Handicap and Brother Derek's victory in the Santa Catalina.

This day, though, the focus of the fans, and the five other riders in the race, will be on Brother Derek. Brother Derek is the controlling speed in the Santa Anita Derby. For any other horse to press him seriously the first half of the race, he will have to be taken out of his preferred style of running.

"Ideally, I hope he has a little bit of a hard race and wins it, without it being too taxing," Hendricks said.

Brother Derek landed post 2 in the six-horse field, with A. P. Warrior to his inside and Wildfang next to him. The strategy used in the first part of the race by Solis, on Brother Derek, and Corey Nakatani, on A. P. Warrior, could determine the pace of the race. A. P. Warrior won the San Felipe with a stalking trip, and that would seem to be his best chance, but he can be a high-strung horse, witness the wing-ding he threw before a scheduled start in last summer's Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar.

To try and calm A. P. Warrior, who was quite sharp in his stall on Thursday morning, trainer John Shirreffs gave the colt plenty to do when he went out to train at Hollywood Park later Thursday morning. He walked around the shed row for 15 minutes, went to the track with a pony and jogged 1 1/4 miles, then galloped nearly two miles.

"I need to take the edge off him over the next couple of days," Shirreffs said.

Sacred Light ran the best race of his career when he closed sharply for second in the Santa Catalina. Curiously, he has never crossed the wire first. His lone victory in five starts came via disqualification against maidens.

"He seems like he's on go for it," said David Hofmans, who trains Sacred Light. "I just hope there's enough pace up front to help us."

Point Determined starts from the outside after breaking from the rail in the San Felipe. He could get the first-over trip outside Brother Derek.

"Brother Derek is going to get out there and do his thing," Baffert said. "I just like that my horse will be in the clear for a change. He showed determination last time. He was covered up, had a stop-and-go trip."

The field

Santa Anita Derby
Purse: $750,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1A. P. WarriorC. Nakatani3-1
2Brother DerekA. Solis3-5
3WildfangO. Berrio30-1
4Indy WildcatT. Baze30-1
5Sacred LightA. Gryder6-1
6Point DeterminedR. Bejarano9-2

* All starters carry 122 pounds
* Odds by Michael Hammersly
* Television: Saturday, 5-6 p.m. Eastern, NBC