04/05/2007 12:00AM

Time's right for invader Bwana Bull


ARCADIA, Calif. - If this truly ends up being the last year that Bay Meadows is open, then Bwana Bull will be the last winner of the El Camino Real Derby at that track. The first part of whatever legacy he leaves could come on Saturday, when he makes his first start outside the cozy confines of Northern California in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

Bwana Bull has won his last three starts, and is 4 for 5 since moving around two turns. He has Northern California's dynamic duo of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Russell Baze in his corner. And he might have picked the right year to invade Southern California. This year's Santa Anita Derby is a wide-open, inscrutable race with 10 entrants, not a Grade 1 winner among them. Bwana Bull is the only horse in the field with a graded stakes win around two turns. Liquidity, the morning-line favorite of Santa Anita's Jeff Tufts, has not won a race since his debut six months ago, and comes off a sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby.

Everyone has a knock, whether it is concerns over being too slow, too inconsistent, or seemingly ill-suited to the race's 1 1/8 miles.

It is, however, a challenging betting race. The derby, which will be televised live by NBC beginning at 2op.m. Pacific, is the sixth race on an 11-race card that begins at noon. It is the first leg of a guaranteed $1 million pick six, and the richest and most-important of four stakes races that will be run here Saturday.

Just before the Santa Anita Derby, top sprinters Greg's Gold and Smokey Stover are scheduled to meet in the Grade 2, $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap. Both the Grade 2, $150,000 Arcadia Handicap for turf milers, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old turf fillies are part of the pick six.

Bwana Bull represents the first wave of horses Hollendorfer said he will have on a year-round basis in Southern California. He said he intends to have 20 to 25 stalls at Hollywood Park when that track opens later this month.

"It's more of a challenge to be down there," Hollendorfer said. "My wife, Janet, and I love living in Northern California. We'll do what we have to do to keep racing."

Bwana Bull rallied from fifth to first in the seven-horse El Camino Real Derby. He has done his best since stretching out around two turns.

"We always thought he'd run better when he stretched out," Hollendorfer said. The extra distance of the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby should suit the Holy Bull colt, Hollendorfer said. "I would guess he would like more distance," he said.

Although Bwana Bull's Beyer Speed Figures have been trending upward from the start, his career best is just an 89, earned last time out.

"That certainly does concern me," Hollendorfer said. "I look at numbers."

That 89 is what Liquidity earned on an obviously off day at Fair Grounds. He was nervous and agitated in the paddock, had to be saddled while on the walk, then faded after seven furlongs of the 1 1/16-mile race. He was second going 1 1/8 miles in Santa Anita's Sham Stakes in his prior start. Doug O'Neill, who trains Liquidity, blamed himself for the Louisiana Derby, saying Liquidity was undertrained and therefore too sharp. Since that race, Liquidity has had two fast workouts, including the day's best of 22 going six furlongs on March 30.

"He'll be a lot better with a couple of solid drills," O'Neill said.

Sam P. was second to the highly regarded Great Hunter in the Robert Lewis on March 3. In his only other race around two turns, he was second in a Keeneland allowance to Any Given Saturday. He is adding blinkers for this race.

Also adding blinkers are Boutrous, who was fourth in the Lewis, and Level Red, who was third in the San Felipe on March 17.

"The objective is to have him a little closer," said Craig Dollase, who trains Boutrous. "My horse is a little at the mercy of the pace."

The pace should be legitimate, with the sprinter Black Seventeen the likely front-runner. King of the Roxy, the Hutcheson Stakes winner, also should be in close attendance, along with Liquidity.

Court the King was fourth in the El Camino Real Derby. Tiago was seventh in the Lewis. He is taking blinkers off for this race. Medici Code has won three straight on synthetic surfaces in Britain. This will be his first start in this country, and he drew the outside post.