04/13/2006 12:00AM

Sometimes a gallop-out is just a gallop-out


ARCADIA, Calif. - When a race is over, does it matter what happens after the wire? Does it matter how strongly and how far a horse gallops out?

Or is there cause for cynicism regarding Brother Derek?

After coasting to the wire one week ago in the Santa Anita Derby, he pulled to a stop midway on the clubhouse turn - at least a quarter-mile before usual.

While most reasonable minds agree the hasty pull-up means nothing, skeptics wonder if the absence of a complete gallop-out means something more.

Analysis of Brother Derek's gallop-out probably can be twisted in any direction opinionated horseplayers prefer. Those who liked him before have little reason to change their mind. Others have one more element to criticize.

The facts are Brother Derek won the Santa Anita Derby by 3 1/4 lengths, geared down by Alex Solis.

"When he got to the sixteenth pole I looked back and I saw he was so far in front," Solis said. "I don't want to overdo it, so I kind of eased him up the last 50 yards."

Fair enough. It keeps Brother Derek fresh, with no objection from trainer Dan Hendricks.

"I'm not going to complain about having too easy of a race," Hendricks said.

The surprise came after the Santa Anita Derby field crossed the wire. As Brother Derek slowed into the clubhouse turn, third-place finisher A. P. Warrior and runner-up Point Determined flew past Brother Derek. Both galloped out strongly. Brother Derek stopped midway on the turn.

"I made a mistake," Solis said. "I didn't really let him gallop out. I pulled him up a little early, 50 yards to the wire, and after that I just wrapped him. It's no big deal. You can help that. After the race, of course, I said I should have let him gallop out."

If that is the biggest mistake Solis makes this spring, Brother Derek is in good shape heading into the Kentucky Derby.

Post-race gallop-outs often are not that significant. But when a horse such as Brother Derek is favored to win the Kentucky Derby, everything he does is significant.

Post-race gallop-outs can reveal overall energy level, and an early pull-up might indicate general fatigue. For others, an early pull-up can suggest underlying physical problems.

Neither applies to Brother Derek. The week following the Santa Anita Derby, he remained healthy, fresh, and fit.

An adequate gallop-out is a half-mile or more. On a mile track, horses gradually slow down and ease to a stop between the five-furlong and half-mile markers. Brother Derek came to a stop before the six-furlong pole. His gallop-out was less than two furlongs.

Compared to his three previous starts, the pull-up was unusual. When Brother Derek won the Hollywood Futurity, San Rafael Stakes and Santa Catalina Stakes, he galloped out strongly and did not stop until into the backstretch. Hendricks noted those three wins were not as dominating as the Santa Anita Derby.

"[Solis] went into a hand ride at the eighth pole and was easing him up before the wire," Hendricks said. "So, what are you supposed to do - re-break after the race? I'm not worried about it."

Nor should he be.

Brother Derek returned to the track Wednesday, only four days after the Santa Anita Derby. Brother Derek's energy level remains high.

"Going into the [Kentucky] Derby, I can train as hard as I need to and maybe even let him work a little more," Hendricks said.

Brother Derek's training pattern through the month of April will be similar to March, Hendricks said, with "an extra little bit here and there . . . a few extra miles like we did going into the Santa Anita Derby; it seemed to have worked."

There was a notable improvement in Brother Derek's behavior during the Santa Anita Derby. In the Santa Catalina, Brother Derek was keen, and pulled hard.

"I had a little too fresh horse in the Santa Catalina," Hendricks said. "He was much quieter for the [Santa Anita] Derby and he'll be settled in Kentucky."

Solis had the best perspective. "He was so much more relaxed," he said, adding that he and Hendricks "do not want take away his speed, that's his weapon.

"You can feel how confident [Brother Derek] is getting," Solis said. "The other day, that was the best he's ever broke. He broke so sharp, and as soon as he opened up a length, he shut it down. He went into the turn so relaxed I was thinking we were going 24, 49 [seconds]."

Brother Derek is unlikely to get the same trip in Kentucky. No problem.

"He had two or three horses in front of him in the Hollywood Futurity and he relaxed fine," Solis said. "If he was going to do something stupid, he would have done it by now."

Whether Brother Derek can be rated behind the Kentucky Derby pace is open to debate. Hendricks said: "We seem to think he can. We hope he can. You never know until you have to do it."

Ultimately, Hendricks said Brother Derek's chances to win the Kentucky Derby boil down to more than the soft pace in the Santa Anita Derby, or his quick pull-up afterward.

"If he gets a perfect trip and he's feeling good and he's better than everyone else, then he might have a shot to win," Hendricks said.