Brother's keeper: How a Utah-trained colt became the Kentucky Derby favorite

Published: Friday, May 5 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Alex Solis rides Brother Derek during morning workouts in preparation for the 132nd Kentucky Derby May 1, 2006 at Churchill Downs.

Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

SOUTH JORDAN — At just after 8 each morning, John Brocklebank would wheel his long-bed pickup truck into the parking lot of the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park. He'd navigate the roundpens and stables that stand between the entrance and the southwest side of the modest race track in South Jordan, then hit the brakes and pull the keys from the ignition at his favorite spot overlooking the track.

Brocklebank would punch in a few numbers on his cell phone to give trainer Shane Chipman the green light, and moments later a magnificent colt — an impressive yearling by the name of Brother Derek — would be breezing down the homestretch, clods of red dirt flying up behind him. That was the drill.

It was early autumn 2004 and the breaking of Brother Derek, Saturday's morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby, had begun. The training of this wunderkind colt would continue through the final few chapters of 2004 and extend through the first few of 2005, at which time he, as with many of the horses that come and go through the Wasatch Farms fold, would be auctioned off at the Barretts auction in March to the highest bidder. Business is business.

But the story of Brother Derek doesn't really begin there, and it surely doesn't end there. The story of Brother Derek, well, it's a little different.

Man meets horse

For a guy like Brocklebank, the annual Keeneland auction in Lexington, Ky., the second two weeks in September is, he will tell you, "hog heaven."

Brocklebank's passion for horses borders the manic.

How else can you explain him forfeiting a football scholarship at the University of Utah just so he could spend more time at the stables . . . or the time he walked out of a U2 concert three songs in because he'd rather talk shop with his horse cronies than hear what Bono had to say . . . or why, when on a recent vacation to Rome, it was endured rather than enjoyed?

Too much time away from the horses.

Keeneland is to horse folk what the Apple Show is to tech junkies. For two glorious weeks, from sunup to sundown, horse enthusiasts descend on these Kentucky pastures to survey and peruse, to banter and bargain. When it's over, some 5,000 horses each year have new stables to call home.

This is where Brocklebank found himself in 2004, walking the grounds and stables at Keeneland, scribbling notes, circling names. He had noticed in the auction's catalog that the full brother of a horse he thought highly of, "a nice little race horse named "Don'tsellmeshort," would be on the blocks.

"I already knew the horse was a Cal-bred, which is something we are always looking for, but when I saw the colt was a bay colt I got a little nervous," Brocklebank admits. "Because I just knew I had to have that horse."

After a brief game of cat and mouse with two buyers from Florida — "Rudy and Bruno, a couple crackerjack horse buyers" — Brocklebank found himself signing the $150,000 bid ticket. That he had bid "about a hundred thousand dollars" more than what a colt of its pedigree typically fetched was of little consequence.

"When it was over I called Craig (Tillotson) and told him we had just bought the best horse we'd ever bought."

Band of brothers

Tillotson is Brocklebank's friend and business partner, the money man. Chipman, who along with Alvin Torres helped break and train Brother Derek during his stay in Utah, is Brocklebank's right-hand man.

"Craig is one brother and Shane is my other," says Brocklebank.

The horse is named after Tillotson's son Derek, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently serving in Armenia.

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