[image url="http://cdn.bloodhorse.com/images/content/dhendricks_small.jpg"]Dan Hendricks[/image]
When Brother Derek won the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) Saturday, it solidified his status as favorite for the May 6 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Not only is the colt the best horse trained by the 47-year-old Dan Hendricks since he went on his own in 1987, but Brother Derek will also be the trainer’s first Derby horse and served as part of his inspiration for returning to training after a serious accident.
A native of Los Angeles, Hendricks’ family was involved with horses—his father and uncle were both trainers—and served as an assistant to Richard Mandella for nine years before striking out on his own. Previous to Brother Derek, the best horses conditioned by Hendricks had been grade I winner Private Persuasion, grade II winners Blushing Heiress and Smooth Player, as well as Cal Cup Classic winner Cozy Guy and the speedy Gray Slewpy.
Hendricks’ life and career changed drastically on July 7, 2004, when he was severely injured in a motocross accident while engaging in a sport that he had participated in since age 11. The accident left Hendricks paralyzed from the waist down, and he temporarily turned over his stable to assistant Francisco Alvarado, who was assisted by Hendricks’ wife, Samantha.
After extensive surgery and rehabilitation and with the support of the racetrack community that held a charity poker event on his behalf, Hendricks resumed training two months after the accident. He uses a customized van and scoots around the stable area in a wheelchair.
Bloodhorse.com appreciates Dan Hendricks taking time from his busy schedule to answer questions from readers as he prepares for one of the biggest moments of his career.
When did you first start training Brother Derek?
Mr. Peacock and I bought BD from the March sale of '05 then shipped him directly to Santa Anita for race training.
Congrats on a big (yet not surprising) win in the Santa Anita Derby. Brother Derek is truly a gifted horse it seems, and I cannot see very many worthy opponents for him. I was wondering who you consider to be his biggest threat come Derby Day. A friend of mine said that he thinks that Bob and John and Lawyer Ron will give Derek his best challenge. What do you think?
I cannot single out one horse. Barbaro, Lawyer Ron, Sweetnorthernsaint, Point Determined, and Bluegrass Cat are all very good horses that I fear most -- and it should be a great Derby.
Congratulations on your success with Brother Derek's win in the Santa Anita Derby! This horse is truly phenomenal. Is he an easy horse to train? Also, last year, Tim Ritchey, trainer of Preakness darling Afleet Alex said that the horse makes the trainer as opposed to the trainer making the horse. With Brother Derek's recent achievements, how viable would you say that statement is and does it pertain to your situation with him as well? Thanks for answering my questions, and I hope to see you in the winner’s circle on Derby Day!
Thanks. Yes, he's easier to train because he can run faster than most the other horses, and Tim is right. That's why it's called "Horse Racing" -- but seriously, good trainers are very good at getting owners with good horses and that makes their job easier! There are a lot of very good trainers out there with average horses that do a great job and deserve a lot more credit than they get.
Sugar Land, TX:
I am a big Brother Derek fan. You have really done a great job with him. What is he like off the track, temperament-wise? Thanks and good luck in the Derby.
Thanks for the question. BD is not a very people friendly horse around his stall but tolerates us if we have a carrot. He seems to be happy to be left alone but, when you tack him up, his demeanor changes and he comes alive and is playful and enjoys himself outside and on the track.
Huntington Beach, CA:
Will Brother Derek have one more work at Santa Anita before shipping to Kentucky? Thanks and best of luck to you and your horse.
We will work him twice at SA then once at CD, weather permitting.
Although Brother Derek did very well in the Santa Anita Derby, in such a small field, without having to rate and adjust to traffic, how will you judge his ability in a 20-horse field and what changes will you have to make in running him in Kentucky? It was impressive the way he broke from the gate and how easy he ran, but will he be able to do that at Churchill with the way that race can set up? From his other past performances, he's definitely a fine horse, but what will be your strategy?
With his tactical speed, he shouldn't encounter a lot of traffic as long as there isn't a suicide pace or bad break. At this point, there are not a lot of things we can do to school him, but we'll cross our fingers, hope for the best, and enjoy the ride -- and if you don't tell anyone else, we're going to try and sit just behind the speed in the clear, take the lead at the 3/16th pole, and win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Long Beach, CA:
Mr. Hendricks: The love and respect you and your boys have for each other is truly evident when we see you all at the track. Are any of your sons interested in becoming horse trainers? Our best wishes to you and Brother Derek in the weeks ahead - this is just so much fun!!!
We have not pushed them toward the track but will support them fully if and when they want to -- after they finish college, of course. They all ride and love horses.
Forest Hills, NY:
Dan, Best of luck in the Derby! Do you have any concern that the SA Derby was perhaps too easy, and that Brother Derek hasn't gotten the kind of battle testing that would better prepare him for the stampede he'll likely face in the Derby?
Yes, this is a concern but, at the same time, we could not have foreseen him winning so easy all the time.
Park Ridge, IL:
Congratulations on the SA Derby! I feel there are striking similarities between your horse and Point Given in 2001: A strong 2-year-old foundation, great 3-year-old preps, and an SA Derby that was a short field dominated by the speed/power of the winner. What can you do in four weeks to prevent him being victimized by the early pace scenario in the Derby like Point Given was?
We will be giving him longer and stronger gallops to take a slight edge off him as we did for the SA Derby.
Oklahoma City, OK:
Dan, I have been around Thoroughbreds all my life. You seem to have an incredible rapport with Brother Derek. The horse really responds to you. Do you think it is important for a trainer to have a special relationship with a special horse? Best of luck in the Derby!
Thank you. We seem to spend a little extra time with the better horses and, at the same time, the public does not see the rapport we have with lots of our horses. Every year I seem to have a special horse in the barn, and it's not always a good one. Mr. Siphon comes to mind. He was a half brother to The Tin Man and a barn favorite.
Hi Dan, I know you're enjoying all the excitement with your great horse, Brother Derek. Do you expect him to run off the pace in the Derby stampede or be close to the lead early? Best of luck! Pat
Thank you. Hopefully, the pace will be reasonable and we can sit off it. And, yes, we're enjoying the ride of a lifetime.
Ozone Park, NY:
Congrats, Dan! Thanks for stopping by. It was great seeing you and the family on NBC. A couple of questions: How does Brother Derek's dosage compare with some of the top Derby rivals? I know you've been quoted that he has been a bit rank of late, so does he have the ability to rate in mid-pack as opposed 2-3 behind the runner front runner in the Derby? And what kind of pace do you expect to see? Good luck.
They say his Dosage is fine. BD was a little rank by design earlier this year to keep him fresh for the upcoming races. Then we settled him down a little for the SA Derby, and he seemed to respond. Francisco Alvarado, my assistant, has spent a lot of time and work with this horse, and I really couldn't have done it without him.
Dan: After your accident, how has Brother Derek changed your life?
He's been a big help and inspiration, to say the least.
A half-brother to Benchmark (King of Tap) stands in Louisiana and is the subject of effective breeding through Siyah Kalem. Do you think Brother Derek's conformation, disposition, and racing style reflect genes from the Mr. Prospector, Alydar, or Relaunch lines? And was the "brother" an "A" + nick?
I can't specify one or the other, but I would lean toward Relaunch, I was lucky to gallop him for Willard Proctor as a 2-year-old and love his offspring.
Center Moriches, NY:
I am a huge fan. I want to know how it feels to get up in the morning knowing you have Brother Derek in your barn? Good luck to you, your family and all of your crew. If you believe it, it will happen. Teresa
Thanks. When you have any good horse in the barn, it helps. With this horse, it's 10 times that. Sometimes, I feel as though I'm just along for ride, kind of watching from the outside.
Dan, I look forward to seeing Brother Derek in person on the first Saturday in May. My question regards his running style; does he need to be on the front end or do you feel he has the ability to rate if a hot pace develops?
I do feel he has the ability to rate off a hot pace. We just have not needed to do it yet.
Who are some of the best horsemen you may have worked for or observed as you were coming up, and what do you think set them apart?
Willard Proctor, Charlie Whittingham, Richard Mandella -- these men know their horses and what to do with them, and they care first for the horse before anything else. But my father and Mandella were the biggest influence on me. They both seem to know how and what a horse thinks.
Good horses like Brother Derek don't become who they are without good horsemen. So my question is: what qualities do you look for in your staff?
My staff has always been the reason for my success, and I've been very lucky with my assistants: Francisco Alvarado, Louis Ortega, exercise rider Etta Riles -- and all my grooms, etc. They are the ones that live with the horses all the time, and I can't thank them enough. We're a big family, and I really appreciate them. I try to see that they care for and realize we're here because of the horse, not the other way around.
Do you have a favorite Kentucky Derby before this year's?
Two always stand out: Secretariat and Affirmed: Secretariat was the best to ever run in a Triple Crown race, and Affirmed had the biggest heart of any, in my opinion.
Dan, Brother Derek is my top choice to win the Derby at this time. I have one major concern, though. Unlike the other 4-5 top contenders, he has very limited experience in large fields. In 8 starts he has only one race with a field larger than 8. As he also typically leaves alertly, what post position would you like to draw to most enhance his talents and tendencies?
I'd like anywhere between post 8 & 14 so Alex can relax and see what the rest do. He's also my top pick...
New Orleans, LA:
Brother Derek has been my favorite even before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. I have never questioned my faith in him. He has such presence! However, how do you feel about his ability outside of California? With the fast track there in California and the deep track in Louisville, do you have any doubts at all against those who have gained experience on other tracks?
BD shipped to Belmont without a hitch, so shipping should not be a problem. Every year they tighten the track in case of rain, and it seems to fit the California horses.
A year ago, you were a relatively unknown trainer. Now, you're a rock star. How does it feel?
I'm not a rock star, and I'd rather this was about the horse.
Cedar Rapids, IA:
Mr. Hendricks, Thank you so much for talking to us, and good luck on your quest for the Triple Crown! Watching Brother Derek run in the Santa Anita Derby took my breath away, what an awesome performance! And what an amazing job you have done with him. With so many potential front runners in the Derby this year, are you worried about how the pace will set up? I can see a mean speed dual on the horizon, and I was just wondering if you think Brother Derek will be able to rate?
Thank you so much, you're too kind. Of course, I'm worried about the pace setup but, hopefully, with a good break we'll be in position for Alex to do what's right.
Los Angeles, CA:
Congratulations on all your success and a great horse! I have seen every one of Brother Derek's races and am a huge fan. That said, much has been made of the fact that Brother Derek has run all his preps amongst a small field. How do you feel that will or perhaps won't effect him in a possible 20 horse field, psychologically -- perhaps it will only add to his competitive nature?
It's gonna be a small problem but, hopefully, with his speed he'll be in good position and out of trouble.
Will you instruct the jockey Alex Solis on Derby Day to take Brother Derek out front or lay second or third until the stretch?
I'll probably tell him ten different things. Hopefully, he'll pick the right one of the ten, and he'll get it done.
Panama City, Panama:
Do you believe Alex Solis deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame?
Yes, I believe so. He's one of the most dedicated and professional riders in the country. Had he not been hurt two years ago, he'd be on top of the riding world.
Out of all Brother Derek's races so far, which has been your favorite and why?
Thanks. The Hollywood Futurity was special because it was his coming out party. But his maiden win was great because he overcame so much and won for fun and let us know he was going to be a good one. Then again, the SA Derby is such a big race and beating S W Boy in the San Rafael was fun, too.
West Grove, PA:
I was wondering if you could give some advice to an aspiring trainer. What do you feel is the most important characteristic to look for in a trainer to whom you were going to become an assistant?
First off, get a doctor to examine your brain and see if there is any hope for you; if not, go for it! I was lucky to come upon Richard Mandella, to whom I owe my career. if you're lucky enough, you'll find someone that has a good-sized stable and is known for their honesty and dedication to the sport that you can get along with -- someone you would want to train your own horses.
Ann Arbor, MI:
I am doing a term paper for school on the pros and cons of racing a horse at the age of two. I just wanted to hear your opinion on this issue.
There is no problem training and running 2-year-olds! The problem is to know when they can't take the pressure and need to be stopped on. I like bringing all my 2-year-olds in anywhere from 2-4 weeks to show them the tracks mental pressures and see if they can take the physical pressure then decide what's best for each individual and then turn them out or continue on because, in my opinion, you need to stress young horses to build up the bone strength or you're going to end up with 3-year-olds having the same problems that your 2-year-olds get.
What is it about Brother Derek’s personality that enables him to perform as well as he does, or is it all physical? Also, what is his nickname around the barn?
Thanks. BD just seems to have all the pieces in place physically with no wasted energy in motion. Mentally, he's a pro and does not get rattled.
We call him "Bro" and "Brother" mostly, but I prefer "Running SOB" myself.
My wife never really shared my interest in the Sport of Kings until she started following Brother Derek. I sneaked a peek at her face when they turned for home in the SA Derby. Tremendous! I loved him in the Juvenile. When you passed the Sunshine Millions, I knew he was special. How similar a setup will the Kentucky Derby be to the Juvenile? Lots of speed, big field, etc?
The biggest difference is the colts are more mature and set in their running styles but mostly it's now a 2 turn race. But the scenario is similar with speed and a large size field so the set up will be similar.
Well done in the race! Now, how do you approach the Derby without overtraining your horse? Also -- the big question -- do you believe the Triple Crown is within your reach?
Only if we win the Kentucky Derby. Then ask me. It's hard not to over train these horses for the Derby. We get excited and our horses are very fit, and we don't want to come up short; but, on the other hand, we need to stick to what got us here and not alter plans in midstream.
Dan, first of all, congratulations to you and all of the connections on having what appears to be the Derby favorite at this point in your barn. What a fantastic job on your part on getting him to this point! I certainly hope BD is "quick like a cat" on Derby Day! All involved would be a most deserving winner, and I do hope the Santa Anita Derby streak continues. What kind of horse is he to train? When do you plan on shipping in and what kind of training schedule can we look for?
BD is easy to train at this point! It's all the extra BS that goes along with the Derby that is hard to put up with, but worth putting up with. We have set the 25th for shipping with a little breeze at Churchill the week of the Derby.