04/10/2006 12:00AM

Spotlight only grows brighter


ARCADIA, Calif. - They bear some resemblance, the two trainers, both of them sporting a strong jawline, sandy hair, and the weathered, squinting countenance that comes from spending most of their lives outdoors, in the company of horses. One of them walks with a limp, and the other wishes he did, which made Eddie Truman the perfect setup guy for a piece of street theater that could only come from the strange, dark place that Dan Hendricks keeps his sense of humor.

"Dan's idea was for me to get in a chair and go over to Brother Derek being saddled," Truman said, beaming at the thought. "Then, as the horse walked away, I'd jump up and yell, 'I'm healed! I'm healed!' "

Practical jokes aside, there is something palliative about Brother Derek, emerging as he has from the fringes of mainstream Thoroughbred thinking to command widespread Kentucky Derby attention. Small-scale breeders view their pastures anew, wondering if there is a Brother Derek out there chasing shadows. Owners on a budget closer to Costco than Coolmore suddenly spend a little smarter, trying hard to read between the lines. Even racetrack operators breathe a happy sigh at such a gift horse, coming from nearly nowhere to give the live gate a goose in these couch potato times.

"This is what 50,000 people came to see, right there," said Santa Anita racing secretary Mike Hammerle, shouting above the crowd, as Brother Derek returned to the winner's circle after his 3 1/2-length victory under Alex Solis in last Saturday's Santa Anita Derby.

The final total, in fact, was 54,189, the biggest number to show up on Santa Anita Derby day since 1984, and 16,000 more than the attendance just a year ago. A portion were undoubtedly turnstile spinners who came for the free T-shirt and split. But the rest were lured, in large part, by Cecil Peacock's remarkable Brother from another planet.

In the light of cold analysis, Brother Derek did exactly what he was supposed to do to a small field that was no match, either on paper or in reality. There is a reason, though, why the betting closes when the bell rings. Anything can happen, and often does. So, while Trevor Denman's vibrant call of Brother Derek's front-running performance built to a rousing crescendo, it was even more entertaining to be standing alongside Hendricks's assistant trainer, Cisco Alvarado, stationed not far from his boss on the mezzanine staircase and providing his own running commentary.

"All right, Brother man, all right, Alex," Alvarado began as the horses left the gate. "Yeah, baby, just sit, just sit. Twenty-three? Easy, Brother man, easy. Easy, Poppy. Come on, Alex. Come on, let him go. Come on, Alex. Come on, Alex. Just sit now. Just sit. Let's go now, Alex! Let's go, baby! Let's go now, Alex. Let's go! Let's go! Yeah! Yeah! Come and get it! Come and get it! Go, baby. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!"

Since the motorcycle accident 21 months ago that left Hendricks paralyzed from mid-chest down, Alvarado, 42, has provided invaluable hustle and vital feedback from atop their 24-horse string. Like Hendricks, Alvarado emerged from the Richard Mandella finishing school for future trainers. As a result, he has handled more than his share of top horses.

"I remember last summer when Brother Derek was entered in his first race," said Alex Solis Jr., who is just beginning a career as a bloodstock agent. "Cisco told me, 'You're going to see our Derby horse.' He was that sure."

Since then, Brother Derek has been treated accordingly.

"We've known where we were going since December," Hendricks said during the postrace interview. "Now everybody else does."

And everybody will be getting a crack at Dan Hendricks, who, at age 47, suddenly will be subjected to a media glare of Paris Hilton proportions. Hendricks, for his part, had his sound bites polished and his deadpan delivery at perfect pitch, not to mention perspective to burn. As he rolled out of Saturday's press encounter, having filled reporters' notebooks and leaving them wanting more, he turned to a friend and deadpanned: "I'd better get out of here. I'm beginning to believe my own b.s."

The correct story on Brother Derek

Dept. of Credit Where Credit Is Due: Now that Brother Derek is a household name and borderline superhero, it's best to get the origin story straight.

In last Saturday's column, I wrote that Brother Derek was foaled at the southern Oregon farm of his breeder, Mary Caldwell. Not so.

Brother Derek was conceived at River Edge Farm in Buellton, Calif., by the mating of Benchmark to Miss Soft Sell, who had ventured from Oregon for the date. Miss Soft Sell was returned to Caldwell's farm, where Brother Derek gestated through 2002. Then she was vanned back to the Santa Ynez Valley in early 2003, to Pepper Oaks Farm, just over the hill from River Edge.

The good folks at Pepper Oaks brought Brother Derek into this world on March 31, 2003. When it was appropriate, Miss Soft Sell was bred to the farm's ace stallion, Swiss Yodeler, after which she and her new foal were sent packing back to Oregon. The rest is rapidly becoming history.