04/04/2006 12:00AM

Two have more upside than Derek

Email

LAS VEGAS - Three major Kentucky Derby preps - the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, and Illinois Derby - will be run this weekend, and the nine-furlong distance of these races should help clarify the Derby picture.

Santa Anita Derby

Brother Derek is the current favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and while his tactical speed gives him an advantage over his two main rivals, A. P. Warrior and Point Determined, those two colts will appreciate stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time. Strong efforts in the Santa Anita Derby will set them up perfectly for the Derby, where they will be even more effective at 1 1/4 miles.

Brother Derek is by Benchmark, a stakes-winning son of Alydar who has not received the respect he warrants, mainly because he stands in California and not Kentucky. Benchmark's sire is part of racing history, and Benchmark is a half-brother to stakes winner Tranquility Lake. His dam, Winter's Love, is a half-sister to Belmont Stakes winner Caveat and stakes winners Baltic Chill and Dew Line.

From a modest California-based female family, Brother Derek is out of the successful broodmare Miss Soft Sell, who produced Brother Derek's full brother, Dontsellme-short, a multiple winner of Cal-bred stakes.

A. P. Warrior, who returned to his good 2-year-old form in winning the San Felipe Stakes, and Point Determined, who finished a game second in a less-than-ideal trip in the San Felipe, have the most upside in this race and for the Kentucky Derby.

Racing class is found in the dam and her tail-female family (dam, dam's dam, dam's second dam, etc.), and A. P. Warrior, a son of A.P. Indy, has a ton of quality in his female family. His third dam, Ocean's Answer, is a three-quarter sister to champion and important sire Storm Bird (sire of Storm Cat and Summer Squall) and major stakes winner Northernette.

Point Determined was bred to develop late and be best at age 3 and older. From the first crop of Horse of the Year and stamina influence Point Given, he is out of a stakes-winning Broad Brush mare, giving him a double dose of staying power.

Wood Memorial

Represented by Point Determined in the Santa Anita Derby, trainer Bob Baffert sent Bob and John to the Wood Memorial because he feels this son of Seeking the Gold should appreciate the surface at Aqueduct more than Santa Anita's main track. Bob and John lost all chance in the San Felipe when he was slammed at the start. His third dam is stakes winner Too Bald, the 1986 Broodmare of the Year, who produced five stakes winners - Exceller, Capote, Baldski, American Standard, and Vaguely Hidden - as well as stakes-placed My Song For You, the second dam of Bob and John. Bob and John should get a perfect trip behind the speed trio of Showing Up, Like Now, and Keyed Entry.

Keyed Entry, who should vie for favoritism with Bob and John, is a son of high-class influence Honour and Glory, who won the Metropolitan Handicap after stopping badly in the 1996 Kentucky Derby. Honour and Glory is strictly a speed influence, but Keyed Entry gets stamina from both his damsire, Cryptoclearance (sire of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi), and second damsire, Avatar (winner of the 1975 Belmont Stakes). While he may stretch out to nine furlongs, Keyed Entry should be less effective at 1 1/4 miles.

Front-runner Like Now won the Gotham Stakes over Keyed Entry and is a son of the late Jules, who sired Peace Rules (third behind Funny Cide and Empire Maker in the 2003 Kentucky Derby). Like Now is out of a mare by Preakness winner Pine Bluff, and his second damsire, Coastal, upset Spectacular Bid in the 1979 Belmont Stakes.

An intriguing horse in the Wood is the undefeated Showing Up, a son of Strategic Mission, who was a stakes winner on turf by Mr. Prospector. Strategic Mission is a half-brother to major stakes winners Sultry Song and Solar Splendor. Showing Up is a half-brother to stakes sprinter Gimmeawink, and thus far, he has shown high speed in his only two starts. While he may get nine furlongs if left alone on the lead, it is doubtful he will be as effective at 1 1/4 miles.

Illinois Derby

Ever since War Emblem won the 2002 Illinois Derby, it has become a viable prep to get graded earnings for an oversubscribed Derby field.

Cause to Believe, who has won 6 of 9 starts, including the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby in his last two outings, is this year's sleeper for the Kentucky Derby. While he has been overlooked because of the suspect competition he has faced, this is a colt of quality with as good a pedigree as any 3-year-old. By champion 2-year-old Maria's Mon (sire of Derby winner Monarchos in his first crop, as well as highly regarded Strong Contender, who will run in the Blue Grass), Cause to Believe is out of a female family that has been exceptional. His unraced dam, Imaginary Cat (Storm Cat), is a full sister to stakes winner Katz Me If You Can, and his second dam, Cuddles, was a multiple stakes winner. In addition to producing Cuddles, his third dam, Stellarette, also produced Nuryette, the dam of stakes winners Tap to Music and Northern Afleet (sire of Afleet Alex).

Fourth dam Square Angel was a 3-year-old champion in Canada, and is the dam of Love Smitten (the dam of Swain) and Kamar, a 3-year-old filly champion in Canada and 1990 Broodmare of the Year. Kamar produced stakes winners Seaside Attraction (dam of 2-year-old filly champion Golden Attraction), Key to the Moon (Canadian 3-year-old champion), and Gorgeous.

Another impressive performance in the Illinois Derby will send Cause to Believe to Louisville as a legitimate Derby threat.