05/23/2007 11:00PM

Cobalt Blue finds a soft spot

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Starting Cobalt Blue in the Kentucky Derby earlier this month was asking too much, owner Merv Griffin and trainer Doug O'Neill announced a few days before the race.

Running Cobalt Blue in Saturday's $75,000 Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park may be a case of asking too little.

The Alydar Stakes for 3-year-olds is not a graded race and has drawn a moderate field. It is the perfect opportunity for Cobalt Blue to gain his second stakes win and then to try tougher races later this summer.

A winner of 3 of 5 starts and $207,000, Cobalt Blue won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in March, but followed with a seventh-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 7.

"He's such a big son of a gun and that track is so deep," O'Neill said of Hawthorne. "You can see how a horse like him would struggle. He never seemed comfortable."

The loss in the Illinois Derby and a subsequent modest workout at Keeneland in late April ended his chances of starting in the Kentucky Derby.

"Merv was adamant" about skipping the Kentucky Derby, O'Neill said. "He didn't want to be 50-1 and take a chance to hurt him. I think Merv's decision was the right one."

Since Cobalt Blue was removed from Kentucky Derby consideration, he has worked twice with blinkers and will wear that equipment for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile Alydar.

Cobalt Blue will be favored in a field that features three other stakes winners - Freesgood, Leesider, and Pirates Deputy.

Leesider won the $250,000 Snow Chief for California-bred 3-year-olds here on April 29 in his stakes debut. Trainer Paddy Gallagher acknowledges that the Alydar will be a tougher race.

"He has to step up against open company, but he deserves a shot at it," Gallagher said of Leesider.

Freesgood and Pirates Deputy were disappointing in the Snow Chief.

Freesgood, the winner of the California Cup Juvenile last November, finished seventh after stalking the early pace. Pirates Deputy finished fifth as the 9-5 favorite, and was promoted to fourth after a rival was disqualified. He won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes over seven furlongs last December.

Level Red makes his first start since finishing last of 10 in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. He will race without blinkers, which trainer David Hofmans thinks made him too eager.