04/26/2007 11:00PM

Final works for O'Neill trio


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Doug O'Neill has never run a horse in the Kentucky Derby, but next Saturday he is scheduled to erase that drought, and in triplicate. Cobalt Blue, Great Hunter, and Liquidity are ticketed to the 133rd Derby for California's winningest trainer, and Friday at Keeneland, all three put in their final works for the Derby.

For Great Hunter, considered the best of O'Neill's group, it was his first and lone drill since he finished a troubled fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes 13 days earlier. Both Cobalt Blue and Liquidity worked here one week earlier.

All three worked six furlongs Friday, all with exercise rider Tony Romero, who put four other O'Neill horses through drills, beginning at 6:45 a.m. with Kentucky Oaks filly Mistical Plan and concluding three hours later with Liquidity.

"I'm tired," Romero said. "There was a lot of pressure today."

Of the three Derby colts, Great Hunter looked best Friday, even though his time was the slowest of the three. But none was dazzling, most notably Cobalt Blue, who for the second straight week looked a far cry from the colt who a little more than a month ago won the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. Liquidity, who had worked well a week earlier, was not nearly as impressive this time.

All told, the morning gave credence to the notion that O'Neill's horses, on the whole, are not coming into the Derby nearly as sharp as many of their rivals. Perhaps they will perk up over at Churchill Downs, which is where they head Sunday to begin final preparations for the Derby.

Cobalt Blue came on the track at 7:15. He was rolling when he hit the six-furlong pole, was whipped once by Romero midway through the drill, and was hit again in the stretch. He appeared to slow down considerably late, and though he completed six furlongs in 1:11.69, according to Daily Racing Form, he galloped out miserably in 1:26.74 for seven furlongs.

Cobalt Blue most recently finished seventh as the even-money favorite in the Illinois Derby.

"That was his first time out of town," O'Neill said. "He's a heavy-bodied horse, and he was running on a winterized track at Hawthorne that he's not used to. Hopefully, we'll see the San Felipe Cobalt Blue, and not the Illinois Derby Cobalt Blue."

After a lull to work horses like Maryfield, Roi Charmant, and Whatsthescript for stakes next weekend at Churchill, Romero came on the track with Great Hunter at 9:15.

As with Cobalt Blue, Great Hunter was allowed to roll along early, cruised midway through his work, finished well after being shown the whip, and then galloped out with enthusiasm. Daily Racing Form had him going six furlongs in 1:13.04, and out seven furlongs in 1:25.72.

"He was victimized by a funky-run race," O'Neill said, referring to the Blue Grass. "He came out of it in great shape, even though we weren't happy with the result. The ability is there. The class is there. He just needs a realistic pace in the Derby, and he should get it."

Liquidity, who was fourth last time out in the Santa Anita Derby, was the last to work for O'Neill as training hours wound down. Romero, as with Cobalt Blue and Great Hunter, allowed Liquidity to move quickly away from the six-furlong pole. He tapped him with the whip at the five-furlong pole, hit him twice more at the quarter pole, and one last time a sixteenth of a mile before the finish line.

Liquidity completed six furlongs in 1:11.65, according to Daily Racing Racing Form, and went out seven furlongs in 1:25.03. Liquidity worked without blinkers, and will not race with them in the Derby.

"Cobalt Blue and Liquidity are coming off mediocre races, so we were looking for them to show early speed," O'Neill said. "For Great Hunter, it was more of a maintenance work."

In other Derby developments:

o Trainer Greg Fox said Friday that he and owner-breeder Joe LaCombe have officially ruled Slew's Tizzy out of the Derby. "We've decided we're not going to go," Fox said. "The owner doesn't want to go, and I don't want to go. We're trying to give the horse four weeks between races." Fox said he intends to ship Slew's Tizzy from his Lexington farm to Pimlico for the May 19 Preakness Stakes "about four or five days" early.

* The defection of Slew's Tizzy helps those on the bubble in terms of , such as Teuflesberg. He was entered in the Derby Trial on Saturday at Churchill Downs, but trainer and co-owner Jamie Sanders said Friday she was keeping her options open. "I know it sounds insane, but I'm thinking of running and then running back in the Derby," Sanders said. "He's one of those throwbacks. If he doesn't get to run in the Derby, this at least gives him a race between the Blue Grass and the Preakness. I'd rather go straight to the Derby. I won't decide until Saturday morning. If I scratch from the Derby Trial, he'll work Sunday at Churchill Downs."

* Those with bubble horses also will be paying rapt attention to the decision of those connected to Xchanger, who won last week's Tesio Stakes at Pimlico. His Derby status was expected to be determined over the weekend, trainer Mark Shuman said.

* Trainer Michael Matz said he has given up hope of getting Chelokee into the Derby and will soon send the colt from Keeneland to his barn at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland. Chelokee, the third-place finisher in the Florida Derby, would have needed several defections from those above him on the graded stakes earnings list to get into the 20-horse Derby field.

* Shaun Bridgmohan will ride Zanjero, the third-place finisher in the Blue Grass Stakes, in the Derby, trainer Steve Asmussen said.

- additional reporting by Byron King and Marty McGee