01/29/2006 1:00AM

Cause to Believe wins El Camino Real Derby

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Cause to Believe wins the $250,000 Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on Sunday at Bay Meadows.

SAN MATEO, Calif. - Multiple stakes-winning Cause to Believe ($7.40) won the biggest race of his career and may have taken his first step along the Derby trail with a solid victory in the $250,000 Grade 3 on Sunday at Bay Meadows.

Cause to Believe won the fourth stakes of his career, making a strong rail move into the stretch and going past pacesetting Objective. He opened and won by three-quarters of a length as Objective re-rallied late. The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile race was 1:41.81.

The victory was the third in the race for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, tying him for first with Ron McAnally for the most wins in 25 runnings of the race. It was also jockey Russell Baze's fourth victory in the race. He also won in 2005 aboard Uncle Denny.

Objective set a comfortable pace in front of Bold Chieftain, who finished third, 2+ (two three-quarters) lengths behind the winner. Cause to Believe sat three lengths behind the leader down the backstretch inside Wanna Runner.

Baze sat patiently and made a strong move entering the lane. He rushed passed Objective and took command and always looked a winner despite the fact Objective did re-rally a bit.

"It was just the way things set up," Baze said. "There was a horse outside me so I decided to stay on the fence. When the rail opened up, he moved right in so there was no chance to shut him off."

Prior to the race, Hollendorfer said that owner Peter Redekop had no strong ambition to run in the Kentucky Derby.

"That could very well change," Hollendorfer said. "I'm sure he could be persuaded one way or another. The kind of people who rate horses had him at 20-to-1 (in the Kentucky Derby Future Pool)."

Cause to Believe, who has five wins and three seconds in eight starts, earned $137,500 nearly doubling his career earnings to $280,565. The $137,500 in graded-stakes earnings would be one of the criteria in qualifying for the Kentucky Derby field.

While the $30,000 2-year-old-in-training purchase may be considering the Derby trail, the $1.3 million yearling purchase A.P. Warrior finished a disappointing and nonthreatening fourth as the favorite. He was six lengths behind Bold Chieftain.

"I was just hoping he'd show a little more than he did," trainer Eoin Harty said. "That's two poor races in a row. We'll go back to the drawing board and may put blinkers on. He's a better horse than this."