(from Santa Anita report)
Brother Derek, his career on a downturn since a fourth straight graded stakes victory in last April’s Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), needs a return to his best form in Saturday’s 60th running of the $300,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) at his favorite track.
Rich in history, the 1 1/8-mile Strub, restricted to 4-year-olds, has proven a defining event for Thoroughbreds moving into the elite pantheon of older horses.
Champions have matured in the Strub, forming their historic destiny, dating to back-to-back winners Affirmed and Spectacular Bid in 1979 and ’80. Broad Brush, Alysheba, Best Pal, and Tiznow are among those who followed, with the Strub becoming a lynchpin for the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) over the years.
If Brother Derek is to get back on track – and his connections have not lost confidence – Saturday’s Strub could be the vehicle to bury a losing streak that has reached seven.
“He’s taking it better than we have,” trainer Dan Hendricks said of the California-bred son of Benchmark. “There have just been so many circumstances and things that have happened. Other than that, he’s run some big races since the (Santa Anita) Derby, and we’re still happy with him, proud of him and having fun with him.”
Brother Derek breezed five furlongs at Hollywood Monday in 1:01 2/5 under Alex Solis, his regular rider.
His primary competition in a field of seven comes out of the Jan. 13 San Fernando Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. II), won by upsetter Awesome Gem by a nose over trainer Bob Baffert’s highly-regarded Midnight Lute. Brother Derek finished 1¼ lengths back in third as the 17-10 favorite.
It was Awesome Gem’s first stakes win in seven starts, and the gelded son of Awesome Again demonstrated dramatic development. “This horse has kept improving all along,” commented trainer Craig Dollase. “He’s a runner.”
Added jockey Tyler Baze, “This is an awesome horse. He’s very talented.”
Despite the nose loss as the 2-1 second choice in the San Fernando, Midnight Lute is expected to gain slight favoritism in the Strub. “He’s a good horse,” Baffert says of the son of 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (both gr. I) winner Real Quiet who is named after Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson. “I’m pretty excited about him.”
As the field’s leading money-winner with earnings of $1,557,458, Brother Derek (15--6-1-2) carries high weight of 123 pounds, two more than Awesome Gem and Arson Squad, who is also seeking a turnaround of his recent fortunes after a fourth-place finish in the San Fernando for trainer Bruce Headley.
Midnight Lute, weighted at 119, has posted a 3-2-1 record in six starts for earnings of $282,600.
$300,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, 4 p.m.), 4-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Objective (KY), 117, Jorge F. Chavez
2. Fairbanks (KY), 117, David R. Flores
3. Arson Squad (PA), 121, Garrett K. Gomez
4. Awesome Gem (KY), 121, Tyler Baze
5. Brother Derek (CA), 123, Alex O. Solis
6. Midnight Lute (KY), 119, Victor Espinoza
7. Spring At Last (KY), 117, Corey S. Nakatani