07/20/2005 11:00PM

Minister Eric injures ankle

El Roblar, who stayed undefeated by winning a division of the Oceanside on Wednesday, may make his next start in the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 5.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Minister Eric, the winner of the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita in January, will miss a scheduled start in Sunday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar because of a swollen ankle, trainer Richard Mandella said.

Minister Eric's defection from the San Diego cast a pall over the Mandella barn on Thursday. Mandella won the second division of the Oceanside Stakes on opening day Wednesday with unbeaten El Roblar.

Mandella said tests on the horse's left ankle would determine the extent of the injury.

"He had a big ankle this morning. He was just ready to run," Mandella said. "We'll set up [a test] to do a diagnosis."

The absence of Minister Eric denies the San Diego one of its graded stakes winners from this year. Owned by Gerald Ford, Minister Eric has won 3 of 12 starts and $562,771. He has not started since the San Fernando because of surgery earlier this year to remove bone chips from his left front ankle.

"He's got old ankle problems, and it all looked good until today," Mandella said. "It's different from what he had before. It's not the same kind of problem."

The Grade 2 San Diego Handicap is run at 1 1/16 miles on dirt and serves as a prep to the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 21.

Of the six entered in the San Diego, only Keep on Punching started in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9, finishing sixth.

Trainer Anthony Saavedra acknowledges that the quick turnaround from the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup to the San Diego Handicap is not ideal - he would prefer another week - but feels the San Diego distance better suits Keep on Punching.

"I'm not sure he's a mile-and-a-quarter horse just yet," he said. "He might grow into it. I know he's a mile-and-a-sixteenth horse."

Keep on Punching made his stakes debut in the Gold Cup. He won his three previous starts - a maiden race and two allowance races.

El Roblar may sit until September

Mandella said El Roblar may not return until the $400,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 5. Another option is the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf on Aug. 13.

Owned by Jess Jackson, El Roblar is undefeated in three starts. He beat maidens at Santa Anita on Jan. 23 when trained by Bruce Headley. In early May, Jackson removed the horses he had with Headley and sent them to other trainers. El Roblar was sent to Mandella and made his first start for his new trainer at Hollywood Park on May 30, winning a seven-furlong allowance race.

Wednesday's marked El Roblar's first start around two turns and first start on turf.

"He gave us the feeling that he could do it," Mandella said. "He's got that big, sweeping stride. He's a good horse."

Becrux, who won the first division of the Oceanside Stakes, is expected for the Del Mar Derby.

Becrux's upset win capped quite a day for one of his co-owners, prominent film producer Gary Barber. He said he received a phone call earlier in the day from top South African trainer Michael de Kock, who told Barber that one of Barber's horses had won a race in that country on Wednesday.

Bro Lo points for I'm Smokin

Bro Lo, who turned in an emphatic eight-length win over maidens on Wednesday, will return in the $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for statebreds at six furlongs on Sept. 5, trainer Doug O'Neill said.

O'Neill said Bro Lo emerged from Wednesday's race extremely tired.

Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, Bro Lo ran five furlongs in 56.46 seconds, leading throughout. He may have run faster than the track record. The existing record of 56.40 seconds was set by Soldier Girl in August 1964, when races were timed in fifths of a second.

Bro Lo is owned by breeders Billie and David Farr.

Cozy Guy's condition improving

Cozy Guy, the winner of the California Cup Classic last October, is no longer being administered fluids intravenously and is showing improvement from a liver ailment that has threatened his life, trainer Dan Hendricks said.

Cozy Guy, 4, has been hospitalized at the nearby San Luis Rey Equine Clinic since the first of July, when he was stricken for an unknown reason.

Hendricks said Cozy Guy remains under constant care.

"He's kept his appetite," Hendricks said. "He's producing glucose, but not as much as we'd like or as much as necessary. We're trying not to put him on anything. He's still at the hospital and will remain there as long as it takes."

Earlier this month, shortly after Cozy Guy was hospitalized, Hendricks feared that the gelding's life was in jeopardy.

"We didn't think he'd survive this long," he said. "To have him do it is great."

Brother Derek has sore feet

Hendricks is taking a guarded approach to the stakes debut of Brother Derek, a flashy winner of a maiden race at Hollywood Park on May 14.

The colt has been plagued by sore feet that have kept him out of serious training in recent weeks.

"If I can get him back by the first of August, I need a few works," Hendricks said. "His feet just aren't ready."

Giacomo walking, not training

Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, who is sidelined after undergoing knee and ankle surgery last month, is based at Del Mar this summer but will not start at this meeting.

Giacomo is walking in the mornings and afternoons, a routine he will continue for 45 days. He will not begin training until late September, trainer John Shirreffs said.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Giacomo has won 2 of 10 starts and $1,966,316. After the Kentucky Derby, he finished third in the Preakness Stakes and seventh in the Belmont Stakes.