03/16/2006 12:00AM

Divisional threats lacking in San Felipe


ARCADIA, Calif. - Is there a 3-year-old in California that can warm up Brother Derek? If so, where is he hiding?

A pleasant cast of allowance-caliber 3-year-olds entered the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita, and who knows? Maybe one will rise above the ordinary.

But if the San Felipe starters run as monotonously slow as they have all winter, the trophy engraver can start early and begin etching Brother Derek's name as the winner of the 2006 Santa Anita Derby.

Unfortunately, the Southern California 3-year-old division is only one-horse deep. Not even Bob and John is legitimate yet. Horses do not rise to divisional leadership - or even No. 2 seed - like Bob and John, whose last two wins were after pressing a half-mile in 48-and-change as the odds-on favorite. Big deal.

Bob and John, however, is the likely favorite Saturday in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. After all, he enters as the omnipotent high-figure horse. Bob and John's last-start Beyer Speed Figure is 102, which would mean something if he earned it like a real stakes horse. But he did not. In the Grade 3 Sham, Bob and John pushed a weak pace and ran away from weak rivals.

Maybe he will improve Saturday. He will have to, because seven starts into his career, the main thing Bob and John has going for him is seasoning.

To win the San Felipe, Bob and John must catch Point Determined. Both are trained by Bob Baffert, who referred to Point Determined this week when he said, "If I have a 'dark horse,' it's him." It was a clever remark, because there are no sleepers in Baffert's barn, particularly not Point Determined, who has been favored at odds-on in his last three races.

The glitch with Point Determined is he has never run fast. His career-high Beyer is 94, well below the 105 par for the San Felipe. To win on Saturday, Point Determined must improve about six lengths. Maybe he will. Baffert this winter has been "soft" on his 3-year-olds, aiming for spring because, he said, "You've got nothing until the last [Kentucky Derby] prep."

So what will happen when Baffert turns up the heat?

Sky Diving is the third San Felipe starter trained by Baffert, who blames himself for Sky Diving's odds-on defeat in the Turf Paradise Derby. "I told [jockey Tony Farina] to send," he said. "I didn't think they'd be going that fast, but everybody got the same instructions."

Sky Diving battled on a fast pace, missed by a length to deep closer Keagan, and finished more than seven clear of third. But so what? The world is upside down when a runner-up finish in a discount $75,000 stakes in Arizona portends Grade 2 victory at Santa Anita.

Then again, the San Felipe field is not exactly brimming with stars.

Simon Pure and Refinery have similar backgrounds - both were expensive disappointments until the removal of an undescended testicle. Trainer Wayne Lukas said Simon Pure "was always a little crabby and took a while to warm up." A $665,000 yearling, Simon Pure underwent surgery in fall and became a new horse in the winter.

A series of bullet works were uncharacteristic for a Lukas trainee, but Simon Pure already was on the fast track. He finished second in his Feb. 4 sprint debut, then stretched out and wired maidens at a mile. The pace was relatively swift; he extended his margin late and earned a 94 Beyer. That was 16 days ago.

Based on his limited racing experience and rapid second-start improvement, Simon Pure may have more raw potential than any in the San Felipe field. He might be good enough to make the jump, but like every other San Felipe starter, he must improve. As for Refinery, he is ahead of Simon Pure in experience. But is he good enough?

Refinery was a $425,000 purchase as a 2-year-old, and after a disappointing effort Dec. 28, he showed signs of discomfort. Trainer Richard Mandella scheduled surgery to remove an undescended testicle a few days later. Refinery subsequently missed some training and may have been a short horse when he finished third in a Feb. 3 allowance. He added blinkers for his next start Feb. 25 and rolled to a career-best win, earning a 94 Beyer. But was the win because of the surgery, the blinkers, or the slow pace? That's the question going into the San Felipe.

New Joysey Jeff is expected to become a dynamite turf horse - later. "For now, we'll see how far he [develops] on dirt," said trainer Mark Glatt, who added that he is eager to see how New Joysey Jeff performs in a route race with pace. Last time out, New Joysey Jeff closed ground and finished second behind easy-trip winner Refinery.

While New Joysey Jeff's pattern is improving, he remains soft on speed figures. His career-best Beyer is only 92. "He's making steady progress, but he hasn't made that big move yet," Glatt said.

None of the San Felipe runners has. Racketeer goes sprint to route, yet his below-par pace figures make him difficult to endorse going from an allowance sprint to a Grade 2 route. Trainer Bobby Frankel, however, won the 2002 San Felipe with a horse who stretched out off a maiden sprint - Medaglia d'Oro.

Finally, there is A.P. Warrior, who epitomizes the entire San Felipe field. He is well bred (by A.P. Indy), relatively slow (91 career-best Beyer), and has not developed this spring. Perhaps he will improve for new trainer John Shirreffs. Even Blazing Sunset might run better in his second start in California. There are a lot of possibilities in the San Felipe.

Maybe one of the allowance-caliber 3-year-olds will break out with a stakes-quality performance. That would be nice, because when the Santa Anita Derby is run three weeks from Saturday, exacta wagering will be offered.

And someone has to finish second to Brother Derek.