The heavily backed Brother Derek heads for next month's Run for the Roses as the likely favorite after he ran as expected in an easy gate-to-wire victory Saturday in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) before 54,189.
It was the largest on-track crowd for the Santa Anita Derby since 1984.
Running the 1 1/8-mile distance for the first time, Brother Derek got a shake of the reins from jockey Alex Solis coming off the far turn and the California-bred son of Benchmark left challenger A.P. Warrior behind in the stretch. He won by 3 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:48, handing wheelchair-bound trainer Dan Hendricks his first victory in the West Coast's most prestigious race for 3-year-olds.
"That was just what we wanted," Hendricks said.
Point Determined finished well for Rafael Bejarano to take the runner-up spot over A.P. Warrior.
Brother Derek, who went over the $1 million in career earnings, came home in :36 4/5 for the final three furlongs after completing the opening quarter-mile in :23 3/5, the half in :47 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:11 1/5.
He broke best of the five horses left in the field after the scratch of Indy Wildcat and opened up a two-length advantage on the clubhouse turn as Corey Nakatani, aboard A.P. Warrior, took back. Point Determined chased the first two from the outset. Sacred Light, runner-up to Brother Derek in the Santa Catalina (gr. II) a month ago at Santa Anita, stumbled badly at the start and lost all chance for Aaron Gryder.
The field was the smallest for the Santa Anita Derby since 1946.
Brother Derek led by 3 1/2 lengths on the backstretch as A.P. Warrior and Point Determined began to close in rounding the far turn. But Solis gave Brother Derek a reminder at the three-sixteenths pole and the dark bay responded with a game run through the lane under a long hold.
"He felt so fantastic," Solis said. "He came out like a cat. I let him run a little bit more (through the stretch) just to get him ready for his next race. When he switched leads at the eighth pole, he really found another gear."
"This horse is a monster. Just incredible," Solis said. "He keeps impressing me more and more each race he runs."
Brother Derek won his fourth straight race for Hendricks, improved to four-for-four at Santa Anita, and remained undefeated in four lifetime starts around two turns. Questions remain, however, about the quality of the opposition of he has faced in California, and how he'll respond to the pace challenge and the 20-horse field he'll face in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum Brands! (gr. I) on May 6.
"It's a 20-horse field, it's going to suit a horse that comes from off the pace, and a horse that maybe wants to go that route," Hendricks said. "If we get the suicidal pace, it's going to hurt us. We'll pray that won't end up the scenario, but with 20 horses it just makes it hard.
"He can run, that's all there is to it," Hendricks said. "There hasn't been any faster horses in the races so far, and the next one there will be and it's a whole new game."
The trainer was paralyzed from the waist down in a 2004 motorcycle accident.
"This is the biggest win of my career," said Hendricks, surrounded by his three young sons, who willingly gave up motocross after their father's accident.
"This is the best race I've ever won with the best horse I've ever trained, and that's what makes it easy. People ask me about the pressure. I don't have any pressure until he stops running because he's a very easy horse to train."
Brother Derek would be the first California-bred to be favored in the Derby since Snow Chief in 1986. Three horses bred in the Golden State have won it – Morvich, Swaps, and Decidedly. The last Santa Anita Derby victor to win the Derby was Sunday Silence in 1989.
The colt won for the sixth time in eight starts with earnings of $1,162,080 for owner Cecil Peacock, whose silks bear a strong resemblance to NBC's peacock logo. The network televised Saturday's race and will show the Kentucky Derby, too.
"He was Mr. Peacock before NBC," Hendricks said.
The colt, a $275,000 Barretts buy in March 2005, paid $3, $2.40, and $2.10. Point Determined, who was also second in the San Felipe, returned $2.80 and $2.10. A.P. Warrior was $2.10 to show.
Bejarano figures the Kentucky Derby's 1 1/4-mile distance will help Point Determined.
"Brother Derek won easy because he didn't have any pressure. He was really comfortable all the way," Bejarano said. "I tried to put my horse closer in the race, but I had to ride him all the way. But he felt good and finished strong to be second."
Sacred Light was fourth. Wildfang trailed.
SPECIAL NOTE: Brother Derek trainer Dan Hendrick's is the guest on the Wednesday, April 12 edition of bloodhorse.com's Talkin Horses. Click on link to Submit a Question to Dan.