03/08/2007 1:00AM

Improving duo meet in El Camino


SAN MATEO, Calif. - When trainer John Sadler purchased Court the King after his debut victory in a $50,000 maiden claimer last December at Fair Grounds, he had derby thoughts.

"I watched the race, and it was quite impressive," Sadler said. "I thought he was a 3-year-old who would stretch out. Last year, we had Halo Steven, who won the British Columbia Derby, and we thought Court the King would be good for Hastings."

Sadler changed his mind after Court the King scored a two-length victory in a Santa Anita allowance race on Feb. 2, and the derby on Court the King's agenda is now Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows.

And after that? Well, that's why they run the race.

The late-running Court the King and California Derby winner Bwana Bull, a stalker, figure to make the 1 1/16-mile El Camino a legitimate test for horses with any Kentucky Derby dreams.

Also in the race are Freesgood, who is trying to regain the form that made him the Cal Cup Juvenile winner; the stakes winner Zoning In, who will be making his route debut; and the stakes-placed Candy's Bro, the likely pacesetter. Brave Sun has won three straight since being claimed, while Coalinga Kid won his maiden going long.

"I think this is a reasonable field," Sadler said. "There are no monsters, but it's a realistic spot. I know this horse is better than Sorta Gold, who came up here and lost a nose to Brave Sun."

Brave Sun's Jerry Hollendorfer-trained stablemates Candy's Bro and Bwana Bull may also be better.

Bwana Bull has impressed Hollendorfer and jockey Russell Baze with his solid works since he won the California Derby by five lengths in his stakes debut. He has three wins and a second in two-turn races.

Bwana Bull, Candy's Bro and Freesgood are the only horses in the race who are Triple Crown nominated.

Sadler said he would consider nominating Court the King for $6,000 by the March 31 deadline, depending upon Saturday's outcome.

"This is the time of year when there are lot of touted horses," Sadler said. "This is a nice little horse. I like him, but the question is can he take another step forward. It's not always the most talented that go on. It's the horses that stay sound and step forward that keep on the trail."