09/28/2006 11:00PM

Stash these horses to watch till 2007


PHOENIX - In many ways, the Sunday after the Breeders' Cup is the unofficial start to the next season, and there will be a number of horses who were very high-profile earlier this year looking to get their groove back as the calendar swings toward 2007. Despite early season heroics, things have not gone well for these horses, either through declined form or injury. With time too short for them to make it to the Breeders' Cup this year, they have every opportunity to crank up for 2007.

Brother Derek: Actually, it's not too late for this talented runner to still make some noise this year. He was the toast of Southern California off a string of powerful victories that sent him to Kentucky as one of the ones. A good run in the Derby behind Barbaro despite a woeful trip actually enhanced his reputation to some degree. But then he was humbled by Bernardini in the Preakness, and it was time to rest and regroup.

After 3 1/2 months away from the game he came back in the El Cajon at Del Mar on Sept. 2. He looked like a winner going to the far turn that day, but suddenly hit a wall, and was no match for Cindago. Trainer Dan Hendricks has since said Brother Derek needed that race and wasn't as fit as he could be. Next Saturday's Grade 2 Goodwood at Oak Tree at Santa Anita, where he's supposed to run headlong into Lava Man, gives him another chance to show he's among the 3-year-old elite.

Sweetnorthernsaint: The favorite in the Derby, he made a good run that day. Like Brother Derek he was no match for Bernardini in the Preakness, finishing second, and he hasn't raced since. More disconcerting is the fact he didn't work again for four months. The good news, however, is he has worked twice recently at Laurel. The lack of action this summer means he almost certainly won't make the BC Classic. Instead he can point to the fall and winter, and possibly be a big horse come 2007.

It's no different with the fillies and mares - there are those that prospered earlier this year and now are not even mentioned when talk turns to division honors.

Balance: Winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, she had a bone chip removed in her left ankle following her 11th-place finish in the May 5 Kentucky Oaks. She is recovering and expected to resume racing around the start of the year.

That's terrific news because there's little doubt that during the winter and early spring she was the queen of the division. A dull run in the Grade 1 Ashland was chalked up to her not liking Keeneland. Okay, we can give her a mulligan there. Trouble is, she came back to be dull again in the Kentucky Oaks, though she suffered an injury in the race. The rest of her season was lost, so she could come back strong in 2007.

Wild Fit: Quite possibly the most disappointing of the four I've discussed here. That's because there wasn't an injury to blame as with Balance, and there wasn't a rugged Triple Crown trail to blame as with Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek.

In fact, after a couple strong races at Santa Anita in the winter, it seemed she was cranked and ready for the Kentucky Oaks. A setback took that race off her docket, and she didn't resurface until a disastrous run at Saratoga, where she hopped at the start to break lengths behind the field.

Even if you forgive that run, how could you excuse her poor Gazelle showing a few weeks later? Trainer Patrick Biancone said she was bought and given to him specifically with the BC Distaff in mind. It's impossible to envision that scenario now. That is, unless they can regroup and get her back to her near-championship form of 2005. Then maybe they can win the BC Distaff - in 2007.

Remembering Precisionist

Every year we lose some who were so great to watch. This year is no different: Groovy, Danzig, Pancho Villa, Glitter Woman, King's Swan, Coronado's Quest, Bedouin, Gold Token, Countess Diana, Horatio Nelson, Favorite Trick, Saratoga Six, Irgun, Last Tycoon, Dave's Friend, Joni U. Bar, Warrsan, Labeeb, Paseana, Media Puzzle, My Memoirs, Saint Liam, Electrocutionist, Lost in the Fog, Taylor's Special, Second of June. But this most recent loss struck me hardest.

How could you not love Precisionist? He was what a racehorse was supposed to be - sleek, graceful, fast, athletic, powerful, classy. To watch him was sublime - it let me know I was alive.

I was already well into the game by the time Precisionist came along in the mid-1980's, and there have been few horses with whom I developed as tight a bond. Sadly, Precisionist's time came on Wednesday. Racing is all the better for having had him to enjoy.