03/02/2006 12:00AM

Brother Derek sitting pretty

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Brother Derek (above), with Cisco Alvarado up, breezes Thursday at Santa Anita for the Santa Catalina. For Latent Heat, the race will be only the third of his career.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Around about 8:30 on Thursday morning at Santa Anita, on a cool, crisp, clear morning that perfectly framed the nearby San Gabriel Mountains, the future book favorite for the Kentucky Derby came on the track for his final tune-up for Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Catalina Stakes.

Befitting the backdrop, Brother Derek made a breathtaking appearance, gliding effortlessly through an easy breeze, with exercise rider Cisco Alvarado taking a snug hold of the reins. When you combine the way Brother Derek is training coming into the Santa Catalina with the suspect group he is facing, he will be an overwhelming favorite to retain his position as the nation's top-ranked Derby contender.

Eight others are entered against Brother Derek, but the field could be reduced by scratches. The Santa Catalina has been placed as the fifth race on an 11-race card. A $1 million-guaranteed pick six starts with the sixth race.

"I think they did that because he'll be a short price in the pick six," Dan Hendricks, the trainer of Brother Derek, said Thursday morning at Santa Anita. "I hope they're right."

landed post 7 in the 1 1/16-mile race, but could move in at least one spot; Bob Baffert, the trainer of Wanna Runner, said he was considering scratching his horse. The draw gives Brother Derek a tactical advantage against the horse accorded the best chance of upsetting him, the lightly raced but speedy Latent Heat, who drew post 3.

"He's got good speed, but it might be a good race for him to sit off the pace a tiny bit," Hendricks said of Brother Derek.

Brother Derek has won all three of his races around two turns. Last time out, in the San Rafael Stakes on Jan. 14, Brother Derek led from start to finish, defeating champion Stevie Wonderboy. In winning the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 17, he stalked the leader, then surged to the front.

"He's in a clean spot to see what everyone else is doing," Hendricks said. "The only worry is that he could be a little wide on the first turn, but it's not a big issue."

Hendricks would like the Santa Catalina to be as easy a race as possible.

"I'd like a walkover," he cracked. "I'd like a nice, easy race. He doesn't need a taxing race."

Latent Heat has raced just twice, but generated considerable interest by finishing second in a fast sprint in his debut, then winning in a fast time against maidens on Jan. 21. His trainer, Bobby Frankel, wanted to run in a first-level allowance race, but the first ones he entered did not fill. A race for which Latent Heat would have been eligible was run last Saturday, but by then Frankel had adjusted Latent Heat's training regimen to point for a race he knew would go, the Santa Catalina.

"He's a nice horse, but everybody's jumped on the bandwagon," Frankel said. "I'd like him to lay a little off the pace. If he can't lay off the pace, he can't be a very good horse."

, who will be racing around two turns for the first time, will carry 115 pounds, seven fewer than Brother Derek.

also is coming off a maiden win, but it was his sixth start, and first around two turns. His trainer, Warren Stute, 84, was supervising his training sets from horseback Thursday morning.

"My horse didn't start off too great, but he's improving finally," Stute said. "He was immature a little bit, but he's starting to fill out."

was second, and Sacred Light third, to Bob and John in the Sham Stakes four weeks ago. Niagara Causeway is moving back to the dirt after beating a moderate group of maidens on the turf.

Objective was second in the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows in his last start. Blazing Sunset comes off an allowance win at Sam Houston.

The field

Santa Catalina
Purse: $200,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 2

PPHORSEJOCKEYWT.ODDS
1HawkinsvilleM. Smith11515-1
2Mister TriesterK. Desormeaux1156-1
3Latent HeatP. Valenzuela1153-1
4Wanna RunnerV. Espinoza1178-1
5Niagara CausewayF. Martinez11520-1
6ObjectiveG. Gomez11712-1
7Brother DerekA. Solis1221-1
8Blazing SunsetT. Baze11530-1
9Sacred LightA. Gryder11515-1

* Blinkers on: Wanna Runner
* Odds by Michael Hammersly