03/14/2007 11:00PM

Cobalt Blue plays catch-up in San Felipe

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ARCADIA, Calif. - One year later, the baton is about to be passed. Trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Merv Griffin thought they were headed to the Kentucky Derby in 2006 with champion Stevie Wonderboy, but an injury squashed those plans. They are trying to make a belated run this year with Cobalt Blue, who is not nearly as accomplished as was Stevie Wonderboy, but has shown enough promise in his brief career to, at the least, make him a strong contender in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes, Santa Anita's last major prep for next month's Santa Anita Derby.

Cobalt Blue has raced just three times, and only once this year. Of the six 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe, he has the least experience, and is the only one who has yet to race around two turns. But his stylish comeback victory on Feb. 14, when he won a first-level allowance with a Beyer Speed Figure of 97, earned him a chance to make a run at the May 5 Derby. He could not have picked a more inviting spot. Not one horse in the San Felipe is a stakes winner.

"He has zero two-turn experience, but he worked six furlongs in 1:11 and change the right way the other day," O'Neill said. "He's got the body, and he's got the pedigree."

Cobalt Blue is by the A.P. Indy stallion Golden Missile, and is out of a mare by El Prado. He was a debut winner last summer at Hollywood Park, then ran poorly Aug. 13 in Del Mar's Best Pal Stakes, from which he emerged with a sore hind end.

"He strained a ligament below a hock," O'Neill said. "But time off did the trick.

"He's shown talent from day one. He's a good-feeling horse. Mentally, I just hope he'll relax going to the first turn and finish."

Garrett Gomez rode Cobalt Blue last time out, but he and agent Ron Anderson opted to ride Air Commander in the San Felipe for trainer Bob Baffert. Air Commander is a powerful-looking bay colt by Point Given, who won the San Felipe in 2001 for Baffert.

Air Commander has won his last two starts, against maidens and in a first-level allowance on March 4.

"It's important to squeeze in another start, then hopefully bring him back in the Santa Anita Derby," Baffert said.

Level Red has won twice in his last three starts, most recently in a first-level allowance against another San Felipe entrant, Dee Rain.