03/10/2007 1:00AM

Bwana Bull keeps rolling in El Camino Real


SAN MATEO, Calif. – Bwana Bull ($4), farther back early than either trainer Jerry Hollendorfer or jockey Russell Baze anticipated, closed strongly through the lane to catch Freesgood and win the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows on Saturday.

The victory, which followed his win in the California Derby, kept Bwana Bull on the Kentucky Derby trail. It marked the second straight year that Hollendorfer swept northern California’s two derbies. Kentucky Derby entrant Cause to Believe won both last year.

Bwana Bull beat Freesgood by one length in 1:43.22 in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Bwana Bull broke alertly, but Coalinga Kid rushed past him, along with Bwana Bull’s stablemate Candy’s Bro.

“He broke like a rocket," Baze said. "I knew they’d run by me early, but I knew with me in front they’d have to ask their horses. When they went by, he dropped the bit and got back a little farther than I thought."

Bwana Bull only had Court the King beaten after the opening quarter and was fanned a bit wide entering the backstretch.

Coalinga Kid kept the lead through the opening half, and then Candy’s Bro assumed the lead, challenged by Freesgood. Baze, meanwhile, was asking Bwana Bull to rally while three wide on the second turn.

“He was in a good spot, but I really wasn’t getting the response I expected when I slipped out from behind the leaders,” Baze said. “Before we hit the stretch, I busted him left-handed and he switched leads and took off. Once he got going, I knew he’d carry it all the way to the wire.”

Hollendorfer said Bwana Bull’s final prep for the Kentucky Derby had not been chosen, but said he was considering the Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

Bwana Bull’s victory came on a track that had been playing favorably to speed all day.

Freesgood finished a length in front of Zoning In, who dropped back on the second turn but re-rallied for third.

The victory was Hollendorfer’s fourth in the race and Baze’s fifth. He has won three straight, with Uncle Denny, Cause to Believe and Bwana Bull.

Bwana Bull’s victory was worth $110,000 – his only graded stakes earnings – lifting his career total to $244,962 with 4 wins, 2 seconds and 1 third in 8 career starts.