05/18/2006 12:00AM

Derek's owner stays positive

Cecil Peacock (right), with trainer Dan Hendricks and Fran Dalquist at the Kentucky Derby draw, is optimistic Brother Derek can turn the tables on Barbaro in the Preakness.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The most glaring trend gleaned from the last 50 years of Derby winners running in the Preakness is this: They either win, or they make very little impact.

In 1956, Needles won the Kentucky Derby with a steady run on the turn and through the stretch to beat Fabius by three-quarters of a length. Two weeks later in Baltimore, the same run fell 1 3/4 lengths shy of catching the quicker Fabius.

Of the other 45 Derby winners who went on to the Preakness since then, 19 of them won, and in the process set up a chance for a Triple Crown. Of the 26 Derby winners since Needles who lost the Preakness, nine were second and seven were third, but only three of them finished a length or closer to the winner - Foolish Pleasure, Go for Gin and Thunder Gulch. The rest were beaten without much fuss.

This is meaningless, of course, if Barbaro really is the second coming of Bucephalus, as has been suggested by some of his more enthusiastic fans, or even Secretariat, which is usually uttered while ducking a potential bolt of lightning.

This also is typical of a culture governed by extremes. Unless something is the greatest of all time - or the most grotesque - it hardly gets a sniff. The downside is brutal, and abrupt. If Barbaro, mortal by all accounts, somehow loses the Preakness, his name will sink like a stone from the fickle public domain.

In reality, Barbaro could sustain a defeat on Saturday - as did Needles, Lucky Debonair, Riva Ridge, Ferdinand, and Unbridled - and still go on to have an honorable career and a loyal following. In fact, there is an evil kernel of negative karma available to anyone who would like to chant quietly against a Triple Crown winner with Barbaro's particular flair, since such a Triple Crown winner would in all likelihood be whisked immediately away to stud on the wings of the greatest syndication price of all time. Or the most grotesque.

Cecil Peacock, the Canadian oilman who owns Brother Derek, is a fair-play kind of guy who wants nothing more than a clean shot to knock Barbaro off his undefeated perch. If it happens, great. If not, his life back in Calgary won't change a whit.

In fact, Peacock is taking a decidedly laid-back approach to the Preakness, especially compared with the wild week of Derby interviews and inordinate attention in Louisville two weeks earlier. On Wednesday afternoon, as the Preakness focus turned to the nationally televised post-position draw from the ESPN Zone on Baltimore's inner harbor, Peacock could be found a continent away at a blackjack table of the new Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, while trainer Dan Hendricks did the honors in Maryland.

"There was one table available, and I jumped at the opportunity," Peacock said. "I played for two hours and was down about a hundred dollars. I'm just glad I don't have to work this hard back home."

At 79, Peacock has put in his time, building a privately held oil exploration company and then selling half interest, making enough money along the way to indulge his lifelong ambition of owning Thoroughbred racehorses.

Of course, with oil going for $70 a barrel these days, it's a little hard to feel sorry for anyone even remotely connected to the petroleum business. Still, had Brother Derek won the Derby, Peacock would have been hailed back home in Alberta as a bonafide hero for taking one of America's greatest sporting prizes. Don't forget, it has been 17 years since the Calgary Flames won the Stanley Cup.

Instead, friends and family had to commiserate over Brother Derek's troubled Derby trip, while Peacock came away with just $80,000 for a fourth-place dead heat, compared with Barbaro's $1.4 million.

"I had to lick the wounds a little bit, yes, and I was very disappointed, but not completely done in," Peacock said. "I felt especially bad for Dan and his crew, and for Alex Solis. They'd all worked so hard to get to that point, and then to have had such bad luck. It was pretty deflating.

"But considering what he'd accomplished already, it was hard to be too awfully disappointed when a race finally came up that didn't quite work out," Peacock went on. "He's been a pretty special horse, and he still is. It's beyond your wildest dreams to have a horse of that caliber. I mean, how many are there each year?"

Not many, even though the 2003 foal crop numbered more than 34,000. But it is also a fact that Brother Derek, winner of the Santa Anita Derby and four other stakes, has been in steady racing and training since last summer. Peacock, if anyone, knows you can't drill the same hole forever.

"Did he already peak, or is he the same colt he's been for all these months now?" Peacock said. "He still appears to be feeling wonderful, and there's no problems with him whatsoever."

With Derby expectations behind them, Peacock and his longtime companion, Fran Dalquist, look at the Preakness as a fresh page.

"I'm not sure the Preakness has quite the same reputation as the Kentucky Derby back in Canada," Peacock noted. "I've always watched the race, but I've never been in a position to think seriously about it until now.

"I still think it's a close call between Barbaro and Brother Derek," the owner added. "I'm looking forward to finding out if I'm right."