04/30/2007 11:00PM

Cobalt Blue deemed not quite ready

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Merv Griffin didn't want to put his horse in jeopardy, so he decided not to play Thoroughbred racing's version of wheel of fortune.

Griffin, the owner of San Felipe Stakes winner Cobalt Blue, announced on Tuesday that he has withdrawn his horse from consideration for Saturday's Kentucky Derby because he didn't feel the lightly raced colt was ready for prime time.

"I've been fretting over it for a week," Griffin said Tuesday from Southern California. "I just thought this horse is a great horse and he has a great future, but he seems to be green still. I don't know if that's inherited DNA from [his sire] Golden Missile.''

Griffin, a 15-time Emmy Award-winning talk show host and creator of the popular game shows "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune," was concerned about bringing Cobalt Blue into the Derby off a seventh-place finish in the Illinois Derby. Also, Griffin was disheartened with reports about Cobalt Blue's subpar workout last Friday at Keeneland.

"It's sad, but there's many, many races in the future, and he'll be in there," Griffin said.

Griffin said Cobalt Blue would not run in the Preakness, but he did not rule out running in the Belmont Stakes.

This is the second straight year that Griffin, 81, was forced to miss the Derby with a prospect he was high on. Last year, Griffin's Stevie Wonderboy - the 2-year-old champion of 2005 - was forced to miss the Derby because of injury.

"I feel like the Susan Lucci of the Derby," said Griffin, referring to the daytime soap opera star who was nominated 19 times before finally winning an Emmy.

Griffin said he is already looking ahead to next year's Derby, as he is high on 2-year-olds by Holy Bull and Point Given that he owns.

Cobalt Blue's trainer, Doug O'Neill, will still have two runners in the Derby in Liquidity and Great Hunter. On Tuesday, Cobalt Blue trained beautifully in blinkers, but that wasn't enough to change the owner's mind.

"I translated everything that I saw to Merv," O'Neill said. "He was real happy with that, but it just seems like at this point in his career, we're throwing him a little bit in the deep end. Merv himself would so badly like to be involved and part of the festivities, but he wants to do it when he was has the right horse and Cobalt Blue was just a little bit behind."

Sanders has her starter, and a hero

Trainer Jamie Sanders expressed relief Tuesday afternoon at hearing that Teuflesberg would gain entry into Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

His participation in the race had been in doubt, because the field size for the Derby is capped at 20 horses and he ranked 21st in graded earnings, the criterion for inclusion in the field, among possible entrants as of Tuesday morning.

Then San Felipe winner Cobalt Blue and later Tesio winner Xchanger were withdrawn from consideration for the race Tuesday afternoon, assuring Teuflesberg and Imawildandcrazyguy positions in the field - provided there are no late additions at entry time Wednesday.

Sanders said she feels as if a great burden has been lifted, and commended Doug O'Neill for having the courtesy to immediately contact her regarding his plans when he decided not to enter the Derby with Cobalt Blue.

"He's my hero," she said.

Stormello, Tiago the latest arrivals

Stormello and Tiago, who are based at Hollywood Park, flew in to Kentucky on Monday and went to the track on Tuesday. For Stormello, this was a return to the track on which he finished fifth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. For Tiago, this was his first trip to Churchill Downs, but he has history on his side.

Tiago is a half-brother to Giacomo, who won the Derby in 2005 for the team of trainer John Shirreffs, jockey Mike Smith, and owners Jerry and Ann Moss - also the connections of Tiago. Shirreffs even brought a little Giacomo with him. Tiago was in a stall behind souvenir webbing from the 2005 Belmont Stakes that said "Giacomo."

Giacomo was the first starter Shirreffs ran in the Derby. Tiago gives him a horse in the race for the third straight year, following a A.P. Warrior, who was 18th last year.

"I think it gets easier because you can anticipate what's coming next," Shirreffs said of surviving the pressures of Derby Week. "By now, there aren't too many surprises. The first time, you don't know what's next."

This is the first time Tiago, the Santa Anita Derby winner, has traveled outside California. Stormello, by contrast, came here last fall, then endured two nightmarish trips to Florida earlier this year.

"This was such an easy ship - 3 1/2 hours - compared to the 14-hour ordeals he went through getting to Florida," said Bill Currin, who trains and co-owns Stormello.

Documentary followed six '06 contenders

"The First Saturday in May," a documentary about the road to the Kentucky Derby, premiered before a full house last Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival in lower Manhattan.

A film by brothers John and Brad Hennegan, "The First Saturday in May" chronicled the trials and tribulations of six horses and their connections as they went down the Triple Crown trail in 2006. The Hennegan brothers followed Barbaro, Brother Derek, Jazil, Lawyer Ron, Sharp Humor, and Achilles of Troy. All but Achilles of Troy made it to the Derby.

Still, some of the better moments of the film centered around Frank Amonte Jr., who was the assistant, then head trainer, for Achilles of Troy. Amonte endured a roller coaster of emotions as Achilles of Troy won the Count Fleet and Whirlaway before getting injured in the Gotham.

The Hennegan brothers struck gold by following Barbaro, who won the Derby before getting injured in the Preakness.

"If we could pick horses a year in advance for the Derby, we'd be gamblers instead of making movies," John Hennegan said during a question-and-answer session after the film.

"We latched on to people we thought were interesting characters, and we caught lightning in a bottle."

The Hennegan brothers shot more than 500 hours of film and whittled it down to a two-hour documentary.

One of the more poignant scenes of the film showed Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, encouraging his young son Alex to walk up to Barbaro and pet him in his Palm Meadows stall. There were other good family scenes with Amonte and his children at a riding academy near Aqueduct, and Dan Hendricks, the trainer of Brother Derek, with his children.

Other highlights include interviews with Chuck Chambers, the groom of Lawyer Ron; and scenes at the track with Sharp Humor's, trainer Dale Romans, and his son Jacob, who at one point pulls out a wad of cash totaling $1,034. Paul Parrish, a cousin of Dale Romans, injected plenty of comic relief into the film. Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Jazil, discusses his battle with multiple sclerosis and what it's like living and working in Dubai.

More information on the film is available at thefirstsaturdayinmay.com

- additional reporting by Byron King and Jay Privman