06/06/2006 12:00AM

Cobalt Blue has big shoes to fill

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Merv Griffin and trainer Doug O'Neill wonder: Can lightning strike twice?

will make his debut Thursday at Hollywood Park, where the 2-year-old already is burdened by unfair comparisons to 2005 juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy.

Both colts were purchased in February at a Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training. Both were selected by Doug's brother, Dennis O'Neill. Both worked well before they started. Stevie Wonderboy debuted in June at Hollywood, and Cobalt Blue makes his first start in June at Hollywood.

It is a reach to suggest Cobalt Blue will succeed as wildly as Stevie Wonderboy, but Doug O'Neill said his brother was immediately smitten.

"He fell in love with [Cobalt Blue] when he saw him," O'Neill said. "He's a big, strong horse with a confident demeanor."

Sired by Golden Missile, Cobalt Blue was purchased for $325,000. It is more than Griffin typically spends (Stevie Wonderboy cost $100,000), and Cobalt Blue is no cinch to win first time out in race 4.

O'Neill said Cobalt Blue "acts like a nice horse, but I haven't asked him for a ton of run" in morning works. Stevie Wonderboy did not win his debut, and O'Neill admits "We're trying to catch lightning twice."

In order for Cobalt Blue to win the five-furlong race, he must defeat the first 2-year-old starter of the meet for trainer Bob Baffert: Mr. Negotiator.

, a son of Stormin Fever, has a series of short, sharp works for Baffert, and he figures to show speed from the rail. The field also includes Stormello, a fast-working colt by Stormy Atlantic trained by Bill Currin.

While race 4 Thursday is wide open, race 1, for 2-year-old fillies, includes a potential odds-on favorite. , runner-up with an outstanding Beyer Speed Figure of 83 in her May 25 debut, will start at a short price. Trained by Adam Kitchingman, Shawklit Sundae finished almost seven lengths clear of third.

Her main rival might be first-time starter , whose fast works suggest she is well meant for trainer Chris Paasch. Exploited Dream is a $240,000 filly making her debut for trainer Shane Chipman.

While the 2-year-old races offer a glimpse of the future, race 5 for older horses may do the same for the turf division. The third-level allowance includes Fort Dignity, trained by Neil Drysdale, whose U.S. debut on May 21 was an impressive half-length win. The 1 1/8-mile race may be a two-horse contest between Fort Dignity and Zap.

Zap is difficult to assess, because in his last three starts he was under a drive turning for home, and seemingly beaten. He won all three.