12/01/2016 3:26PM

Hovdey: Brown takes three to tango in Hollywood Derby

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Chad Brown was planning to be at Del Mar – home of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup – this weekend when half a dozen of his runners will populate the $300,000 Hollywood Derby and the $300,000 Matriarch. Really, he was.

“I’ve never been to Del Mar, never won a race there,” Brown said Thursday from New York. “And I wanted to come out. But …”

Here it comes. East Coast excuse No. 487 for a trainer blowing off a stakes date in California. Okay, go ahead.

“I only have one brother, Todd, and he has one child, my nephew,” Brown said. “He’s being christened on Sunday, the day of the Matriarch.”

Well, that’s very nice. Family comes first, and all that jazz.

“He’s 6 months old, his name is Evan,” Brown added, “and I’m the godfather.”

The man gets a pass.

Brown did his time in California a decade ago as part of the Bobby Frankel crew. He answered most often to top assistant Humberto Ascanio during the Hollywood Park spring meet, then he would bounce east to be with the boss during Saratoga.

Brown left the Frankel nest in late 2007, won a Breeders’ Cup race the following year in his first try, and now has nailed down his first national championship on the strength of more than $22 million in stable earnings, while relegating Todd Pletcher to second place for the first time since 2009, no mean feat. Pletcher was 37 when he won his first earnings title in 2004. Brown turns 38 on Dec. 18.

“Sometimes people say to me, a jock’s agent, even a journalist, ‘Todd – oh, I’m sorry, I mean Chad,’ ” Brown said with a laugh. “I tell them not to worry about it. My mom always calls me Todd.”

In approaching Saturday’s Hollywood Derby, at a mile and one-eighth on firm turf, Todd Brown’s brother did not exactly overthink the challenge. He simply turned to his 1-2-3 finishers in the Oct. 8 Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont Park – at a mile and one-eighth on firm turf – and sent them packing to Del Mar.

Camelot Kitten, already a multiple stakes winner, finished first in the Hill Prince, a head in front of Secretariat Stakes winner Beach Patrol. Annals of Time, making his stakes debut, was a length back in third. They have nine opponents in the Hollywood Derby, topped by Del Mar Derby winner Free Rose and Twilight Derby winner Frank Conversation.

“It’s been a long year for Camelot Kitten and Beach Patrol, while Annals of Time is more lightly raced than the other two,” Brown said. “But I took the same approach to the Hollywood Derby and the Matriarch that I’ve taken since I’ve been in business – I train them all individually, and if an individual earns the right to run in a certain race, I run ’em.”

Brown is channeling other top-flight trainers who had the numbers to flood stakes races in an attempt to take as much off the table as possible. Charlie Whittingham, who once ran 1-2-3 in the Hollywood Gold Cup, would say, “We got ’em surrounded.” And he was right.

Still, there is a delicate political minefield to negotiate when a patron looks up to see another horse from the same barn beat his pride and joy on the money. Then again, most trainers would envy such a problem.

“My clients will tell you I’m brutally honest with myself and tell it how it is and what I see,” Brown said. “I have no problem running multiple horses in a race. If a horse belongs in a race, they run. I don’t come up with a reason not to run just to keep horses separated. Thankfully, I have many veteran owners who are appreciative just to make it to big stakes races with a chance to win, regardless of who else is running.”

Brown’s championship season has been highlighted by the campaign of likely Eclipse Award champion Flintshire in the male turf category and the comeback story of Lady Eli, who made a miraculous recovery from founder. They were also part of the stable’s most frustrating afternoon on Nov. 5, the second day of the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

“With different race scenarios, we could have had an historic Breeders’ Cup for us,” Brown noted. “Flintshire gets caught in a paceless race with a class horse, Highland Reel, running off on an easy lead. Lady Eli gets caught right on the wire in the Filly-Mare Turf, and Wavell Avenue races six wide the whole way in the Filly-Mare Sprint.”

All three finished second, earning about $1.2 million in the process, while New Money Honey bagged the Juvenile Fillies Turf the day before to salvage the barn’s lone Breeders’ Cup win, Brown’s eighth in nine years. Never mind what might have been.

“I understand the breaks go both ways,” Brown said. “Look how long it took Bobby Frankel to win his first Breeders’ Cup race, with Squirtle Squirt in 2001. And just last Saturday, Connect gave us a good bob at the wire in the Cigar Mile.

“You can’t pick and choose what photos you’re going to win,” Brown added. “But we were lucky to have enough of them go our way to have an outstanding year. And next year, if the horses take me there, I will be at Del Mar.”