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With Churchillian Eloquence

April 09, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

They've all come so far, so fast.

Now they just want to see Brother Derek run this way for another mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

After a victory Saturday in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby that was so easy Alex Solis was standing in his stirrups and celebrating well before he crossed the finish line, Brother Derek is headed for Louisville as the favorite for the 132nd Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Dan Hendricks, paralyzed from the waist down in a motocross accident nearly two years ago, eased his wheelchair through the crowd in the winner's circle after Brother Derek's wire-to-wire victory in the 1 1/8 -mile race.

He was joined there by Solis, who broke his back in a riding accident at Del Mar a little more than two weeks after Hendricks' injury.

"It's such a special story, with Dan and Alex both getting hurt at the same time a few years ago," said Sheila Solis, the jockey's wife. "Just to be a part of this group, it's just an incredible situation."

Hendricks' three sons -- Christopher, 15; Matthew, 13, and Gregory, 10 -- joined him for the trophy presentation.

"I think it's something our whole family needed," Christopher said. "After the accident, we were kind of down. It's like a blessing to our family. I'm so stoked about how he's done."

The other entries in the five-horse field -- the smallest for the Santa Anita Derby since 1946 after Indy Wildcat was scratched earlier in the day -- didn't mount much of a challenge in front of a crowd of 54,189 at Santa Anita Park, the largest for a Santa Anita Derby day since 1984.

Brother Derek, a 1-2 favorite, finished in 1:48, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Point Determined. A.P. Warrior, ridden by Corey Nakatani, was third after a failed attempt to challenge Brother Derek.

"We got to the quarter pole and Corey Nakatani yelled at his horse twice," Solis said. "My horse took off again. I was, like, this is incredible."

The victory might not have tested Brother Derek, but Hendricks had no complaint.

"That was just what we wanted," he said. "A nice race -- a little taxing but not taking too much out of him -- so if we need to, we can train a little harder now and point toward the toughest race to win in the world.

"He has tactical speed," Hendricks said. "There just [haven't] been any faster horses in the race so far. The next one, there will be. It's a whole new game."

The victory was the second for Solis in the Santa Anita Derby. He won with Snow Chief in 1986 and went on to win the Preakness.

"Snow Chief was just great, a very strong horse," Solis said. "This one is just very elegant, real smooth. He does everything so effortless."

Owner Cecil Peacock, a Calgary oilman whose silks bear a striking resemblance to NBC's peacock logo, has never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby, but said he attended one some 20 years ago.

"Even me being a Canadian, when they sing that 'Old Kentucky Home,' there was a tear dropping down my cheek," he said. "I didn't know what the hell it was all about. I was ready to break into 'O Canada.' "

As for the silks, NBC -- which will broadcast the Kentucky Derby -- is hardly complaining about trademark infringement, Peacock said.

"They said if we wouldn't sue them, they would continue on and enjoy the fact we're going to wear them in the Derby," he said.

The hubbub of going to Churchill Downs with one of the favorites awaits, but Saturday was a day to drink it all in. Hendricks asked his children teasingly if they liked the race.

"They've been there from day one since I got hurt," he said. "They're the ones that acclimated the quickest and helped me acclimate to it.

"It's a situation no one should have to go through, but these three guys are the bravest kids I know, because they sure helped me through it."

They're on the other side of it now, just like Solis.

"Maybe [I'll] open a nice bottle of wine and watch the replay for two hours. It was just so beautiful," said Solis, who missed seven months because of his injury.

"After my accident happened, I take life a lot different.... You've got to enjoy the things that happen in your life."



Low Calibration

California-bred horses don't exactly have a distinguished history at the Kentucky Derby. Only three have won the race, none in the last 43 runnings.

*--* Year Horse Odds 1922 Morvich 6-5 1955 Swaps 5-2 1962 Decidedly 8-1 The Santa Anita Derby winner, Cal-bred Brother Derek, will most likely be the betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby.


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