03/16/2007 11:00PM

Cobalt Blue comfortable San Felipe winner

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ARCADIA, Calif. - To a list that already included Great Hunter, Liquidity, and Notional, you can now add Cobalt Blue to trainer Doug O'Neill’s lovely bunch of 3-year-olds.

Cobalt Blue, owned by entertainment impresario Merv Griffin, successfully stretched out around two turns and put himself in the picture for the May 5 Kentucky Derby with a front-running victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

Cobalt Blue ($6.40) beat favored Air Commander by two lengths, with Level Red another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Dee Rain and Grapelli completed the order of finish. Tap It Light was scratched.

Now 3 for 4 lifetime, Cobalt Blue had yet to race farther than 6 1/2 furlongs before Saturday. But he could not have found a more inviting spot to go 1 1/16 miles than the San Felipe, which did not have one stakes winner, and came up a paceless race.

Cobalt Blue, under jockey Victor Espinoza, broke a bit flat-footed from the rail, but was able to get to the front within a quarter-mile. He set comfortable fractions of 23.56 seconds for the opening quarter, 47.57 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:11.64 for six furlongs while being stalked by Level Red. Cobalt Blue kicked clear at the top of the stretch, and never was threatened. He completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:42.46.

"It couldn't have been a better debut for a two-turn race," said O'Neill, who mentioned the April 7 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne as a possible next start for Cobalt Blue.

Griffin owned the 2005 champion 2-year-old male, Stevie Wonderboy, who was knocked off the Derby trail early last year. Griffin was wearing green for St. Patrick's Day. Cobalt Blue gives him another shot at wearing the roses.

"It's alive again," Griffin said, referring to his dream of winning the Derby.

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Earlier in the day, River's Prayer survived a contested pace and hung on to win the $133,750 Irish O'Brien Stakes, a 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint for California-bred fillies and mares. River's Prayer ($5.20) defeated Bachelorette One by 1 1/4 lengths, with Gn. Group Meeting a nose farther back in third. La Tormenta, who tried to go with River's Prayer early, buckled from the swift pace and faded to finish last in the field of six.

River's Prayer and La Tormenta stormed down the hill in 20.55 seconds for the opening quarter and 42.63 seconds for a half-mile. By the time the field reached the top of the stretch, La Tormenta was done, but River's Prayer went on with it. She was timed in 1:12.66 on the firm course. Clinton Potts rode River's Prayer for Paula Capestro, who trains and is a co-owner of River's Prayer.