03/10/2006 12:00AM

Solis is training hard, dreaming big


ARCADIA, Calif. - The man who has everything - knockout wife, loving kids, fast car, Hall of Fame nomination, Kentucky Derby favorite, and good health, as long as you don't count the titanium plates holding his spine in place - descended from one of his lung-busting runs in the mountains above his Glendora home late Friday morning with news that made him truly excited.

"Oh, man, it was so beautiful," said Alex Solis, who never met an exercise he didn't try. "I'd been running for about an hour, and when I got to the hour mark, it started snowing. I swear to God. I have a video camera in my phone, so I have pictures to prove it."

For those readers living in climates not quite so benign, snowfall in these parts can be a real novelty, right up there with free lattes and gas prices below $2.50 a gallon. For Solis, coming from the jungly Panama countryside, the experience was enough to make his day.

"I just wish I had dressed for it," Solis added. "I was going to run for another hour, but it was starting to snow too hard, and my hands were getting kind of frozen."

Take care of those hands. Right now, they are attached firmly to the reins of Brother Derek, winner of the Hollywood Futurity, San Rafael, and Santa Catalina in succession, which has made him the early favorite to win the 132nd Kentucky Derby. Solis, who turns 42 on March 25, has yet to win the Derby, but he has been close twice, and figures he has the right kind of colt in Brother Derek.

"His stride is so smooth," Solis said. "He has such a high cruising speed that going 23 and 46 for him is like walking. That's a big plus."

Solis compares Brother Derek favorably to Snow Chief, his 1986 Preakness winner and 3-year-old champion.

"Snow Chief was a warrior," he said. "He was determined to beat you any way he could. If Brother Derek can be another Snow Chief, that will be great. I'm praying, though, that he's more like another Affirmed or Secretariat. That would make it real easy for me."

In Sunday's Santa Anita Oaks, Solis will be aboard Wild Fit, the troubled runner-up to champion Folklore in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Wild Fit changed hands during the offseason and made her debut last month for trainer Patrick Biancone in the Las Virgenes Stakes, finishing a steadily closing second to Balance.

"She's gotten stronger since she was 2, and she's always been professional," Solis said. "Patrick knew she would be a little short for her first race, but now he is very happy, and she is training 100 percent. We'll be ready this time."

With Brother Derek and Wild Fit in his corner, it is hardly a stretch to imagine Solis arriving at Churchill Downs during the first week of May with favorites in both the Oaks and the Derby.

"Oh, let's not jump ahead," Solis warned. "Let's just try to stay fit and healthy, and enjoy the little things. Going up into the mountains to watch the snow coming down is awesome enough sometimes. In the meantime, I will train hard and dream big."

Guidry a deserving Woolf winner

The George Woolf Memorial Award, decided by a vote among the nation's jockeys, will be given for the 57th time on Sunday at Santa Anita. This year's winner is Mark Guidry, a Midwestern stalwart and Jockeys' Guild leader who made a brief but lasting impression on the West Coast last year when he upset the Santa Anita Derby aboard Buzzards Bay.

At the time, the 46-year-old Guidry sounded as if he wanted to plant roots and ride out his career on the Southern California circuit. But then Tom Hagen sent word to Michael Corleone that the coast was clear and he could come home from his temporary exile in Sicily now that Bruno Tataglia was sleeping with the fishes alongside Michael's brother Sonny, and there was at last a fragile peace among the Five Families, brokered by Don Corleone and that rat Barzini.

Um, hang on a minute. Got off on the wrong track. Not surprised, though. Very excited about the return of "The Sopranos" on Sunday night, especially since they don't have any racetrack episodes planned this time around.

Guidry was among a group of veteran riders who held the line during a jockeys' walkout at Churchill Downs over catastrophic-insurance coverage in November of 2004. Fourteen jockeys, including Guidry and 2004 Woolf Award winner Robby Albarado, were banned from Churchill Downs as a result of the walkout.

In time, the walkout/lockout ended, insurance coverage was substantially increased, and the riders were welcomed back into the fold. The guild leadership, under Wayne Gertmenian, was later discredited and ousted, leaving the organization in dire straits. But there are very few riders who can be convinced that Churchill Downs would have raised the catastrophic coverage without the dramatic action taken by Guidry and his colleagues.

Guidry ended his California sojourn last spring and returned to the Midwest, where he went on to have a career-best year in 2005. He is currently competing at Gulfstream Park, but he's taking a break to ride at Santa Anita this weekend . . . and pick up a well-deserved award.