12/23/2005 12:00AM

Yearly visit proves fruitful journey

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Brother Derek is the second stakes winner out of Miss Soft Sell, who is sent from Oregon to California for foaling to take advantage of the state's breeding program.

Handicappers differ in their estimation of the way a tough race affects a horse. The majority seem to consider it a negative that usually moves a horse backward in condition or readiness to compete again soon.

In some cases, however, a hard effort has clearly moved a young horse forward. In looking back at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, for instance, both Point Given in 2000 and Afleet Alex last year ran game races in defeat and bounced back to become better horses.

And while there is no championship awaiting Brother Derek yet, the colt improved off his gutsy fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October and gained a Grade 1 victory in the Hollywood Futurity last weekend.

His success in Hollywood Park's marquee race for juvenile colts also makes Brother Derek the best racer bred by Mary Caldwell, who has raised horses for years with her late husband, Tom Caldwell, the head auctioneer at the Keeneland sales (and elsewhere) for many years.

Bred in California, Brother Derek, a bay son of Benchmark, is the second stakes winner out of the Siyah Kalem mare Miss Soft Sell.

Chris Caldwell, son of Mary and Tom, said: "It's a family that Mom and Dad has bred going back four generations. But Dad didn't want to breed this mare during the first part of her life because of some significant conformation faults. She was toed in and and also came in on one knee."

The Caldwell family's awareness of how stringent the auction market can be about perceived physical imperfections made Tom Caldwell reluctant to expose himself to an apparent losing proposition.

Chris Caldwell thought his father was being too cautious and saw potential in the young, unraced mare. He said: "She seemed so fast in the pasture that I had to convince him to use her as a broodmare. This mare is very stout, more Quarter Horsey in type, almost double-muscled. When I went to Dad to plead with him to breed her, one of the farm workers dropped a big piece of steel, which spooked her. She wheeled and took off kicking dirt clods a hundred feet in the air, and she was a quarter of a mile away before the first clod of dirt hit the ground."

That show of speed made Caldwell's case, and Miss Soft Sell became a broodmare. She dropped her first foal, a winner by the River Edge Farm stallion Pirate's Bounty, in 1997.

Despite the faults in the conformation of Miss Soft Sell, "her foals are as straight as she is crooked," Caldwell said.

And they are also runners.

All her foals have been winners, and her first stakes winner was her fourth foal. That was Don'tsell-meshort, a gray colt of 2001 by the Alydar stallion Benchmark, who also stands at River Edge Farm.

The mare's fifth foal is a powerful-looking son of Swiss Yodeler named Swissle Stick, who is stakes placed. The mare's sixth offspring is Brother Derek, foaled in 2003.

A good-looking bay colt, Brother Derek brought $150,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2004, selling out of the Brookdale Farm consignment. In March of this year, Brother Derek was pinhooked at the Barretts March select sale of 2-year-olds in training. The consignor was Timberline, with B.C.3. Thoroughbreds, agent, and the colt sold for $275,000.

Caldwell confessed that the family has not put a lot of thought into the mare's mate for 2006. "She is in foal to In Excess," he said, "and she will go back to Benchmark. We thought about 45 seconds on that one. We might as well go back to the well one more time."

Miss Soft Sell spends most of the year at the Caldwells' Gavel Farm in Oregon, then ships to California for foaling and re-breeding, Caldwell said.

The trip to California and consequent eligibility for California-bred status is worth the money, Caldwell said. He cited the 15 percent of the winners' purse his mother received from Brother Derek's Hollywood Futurity victory because of the Cal-bred program.

The sale prices and stakes earnings from the foals of Miss Soft Sell have made them the biggest earners from the members of this family that the Caldwells have bred.

But there have been some solid performers and producers from the family all along. Miss Soft Sell is out of the stakes-winning Relaunch mare Solamente Un Vez, and she was one of two stakes winners out of the Flit-to mare Gavel Gertie.

Named, like the family farm, for the auctioneer's gavel, Gavel Gertie was stakes placed during her own racing career, and as a producer for the Caldwells she foaled the useful stakes winner Cuchillo (by Blade) and Solamente Un Vez, who won the Burlingame, Bay Meadows Lassie, and Senorita Handicap.