04/03/2012 12:41PM

Santa Anita Derby: Brother Francis seeking new status

Shigeki Kikkawa
Brother Francis needs to finish first or second in the Santa Anita Derby to secure enough graded stakes earnings to gain a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Brother Francis was a colt in need of an identity last weekend, as the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday drew closer.

Last Sunday morning, a trackside conversation between trainer Jim Cassidy and a few of his colleagues turned to Brother Francis, who has placed in two graded stakes but is still a maiden after four starts.

Cassidy was asked how his maiden was doing when fellow trainer Jack Carava jumped in.

“Mr. Cassidy would request that you call him his Derby horse and not his maiden,” Carava said.

Cassidy could only smile. The issue may take care of itself in the Santa Anita Derby, the second start in a Grade 1 for Brother Francis.

[SANTA ANITA DERBY: Early look video, news updates, watch the race live]

Owned by Norman Cheng of Hong Kong, Brother Francis is the only nonwinner of the nine probable starters in the Santa Anita Derby, California’s top prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 5. It is a status that Cassidy had hoped the colt would have shed by now.

“I’ve got a legitimate excuse for the horse every time he runs,” he said.

After a second in his debut here last November after a slow start, Brother Francis was second again, after another slow start, in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes over seven furlongs on Nov. 24.

Cassidy saw enough to try the colt in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity over 1 1/16 miles last December, but watched in frustration as Brother Francis raced wide and jockey Victor Espinoza lost his whip in the stretch.

Brother Francis finished third by 1 3/4 lengths to Santa Anita Derby hopeful Liaison.
This year, an illness left the colt sidelined in January. “I wound up not doing anything with him for three weeks,” Cassidy said.

In his lone start of the year, on March 10, Brother Francis finished third after another slow start in a one-mile maiden race on turf under Espinoza. Cassidy saw enough in the comeback race to keep the colt on course for the Santa Anita Derby.

“Victor said he thought he moved too early,” Cassidy said. “He didn’t break. He didn’t come out running. That’s what cost him the race. My plan was to run him in the grass race and get a race into him.”
Cassidy has switched riders for the Santa Anita Derby. Espinoza is sidelined with a hairline fracture of a bone in his hand, so Garrett Gomez will ride Brother Francis for the first time. He has not even worked the horse.

For the 66-year-old Cassidy, well-known for his success with turf horses, Brother Francis is his first starter in the Santa Anita Derby since Iron Lad finished eighth in 2003. If Brother Francis starts in the Kentucky Derby, he will be Cassidy’s first runner in that race since Ocean Sound finished 17th in 2002.
Cheng, who is expected to travel from Asia for the race, bred Brother Francis in Kentucky. The colt is by Lion Heart, who was second in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

Brother Francis needs a top-two finish in the Santa Anita Derby to have enough purse earnings to get a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Through Tuesday, Brother Francis had $120,0000 in graded stakes earnings, but was not among the top 20 on that list. The first 20 gain a berth in the Kentucky Derby. A prospect may need $250,000 or more to  secure a place in the field.

The Santa Anita Derby pays $450,000 to the winner and $150,000 for second.

Essentially, Brother Francis needs to win the Santa Anita Derby for Cassidy to recommend the trip, he said last weekend. It is an issue that he does not plan to discuss with Cheng until after Saturday’s race, if necessary.

“The way I feel, I’d like to see him win,” Cassidy said. “I’d like to go into the Kentucky Derby not being a maiden. One thing I’ve got in my favor – he will try harder than anyone else.”