03/29/2007 11:00PM

Liquidity better prepared for derby


ARCADIA, Calif. - Liquidity's status among trainer Doug O'Neill's Kentucky Derby hopefuls faded after a sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 10.

Liquidity needed a win in that race to keep up with other O'Neill-trained 3-year-olds such as Cobalt Blue, Great Hunter, and Notional, all stakes winners this year.

O'Neill is taking the blame for Liquidity's failure, and looking for redemption in next Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

"I got too confident," O'Neill said.

In hindsight, O'Neill wishes he had trained Liquidity more vigorously before the Louisiana Derby, where Liquidity finished 7 1/2 lengths behind Circular Quay. Liquidity was second with a quarter-mile remaining and faded through the stretch.

"I kind of let him do what he wanted to do," O'Neill said. "We've had two stiff works since the Louisiana Derby. I'm happy."

Friday at Hollywood Park, Liquidity worked six furlongs in 1:12.80, the fastest of 22 recorded works at the distance.

Also working at that distance on Friday were the O'Neill-trained runners Cobalt Blue, the winner of the San Felipe Stakes in March, who was timed in 1:13.80, and Mistical Plan, the winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks in March, who was timed in 1:14.

The Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby is a vital race for Liquidity, who has yet to win a stakes in six starts. If the colt runs well in the Santa Anita Derby, he may run in the Kentucky Derby. A bad performance would essentially end Liquidity's Triple Crown chances.

"If he happened to run less than a stellar race, I'm fairly confident we'd look for a different spot," O'Neill said. "I expect him to run a big race and be part of the festivities on the first Saturday in May."

Owned by Paul Reddam, Liquidity was second by a neck to Stormello in the Hollywood Futurity last December and second to Ravel in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in February.

"He needs to jump up and get back to that Hollywood Futurity form," O'Neill said.

The Santa Anita Derby has a probable field of 10.

Aside from Liquidity, the top candidates are Bwana Bull, a two-time stakes winner in Northern California; King of the Roxy, who won the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park last month; and Sam P., the runner-up to Great Hunter in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on March 3.

Other probable starters are Black Seventeen, Boutrous, Court the King, Level Red, Medici Code, and Tiago.

Level Red, third in the San Felipe in his stakes debut, will wear blinkers for the first time in the Santa Anita Derby. He wore them in a five-furlong workout in 1:00.40 under jockey Aaron Gryder at Hollywood Park on Friday.

Level Red's workout time equaled the fifth-fastest of 36 recorded works at the distance.

"He settled in behind a horse and they went off quickly," Hofmans said. "Aaron asked him to run and he exploded. He did it the right way."

Hofmans timed Level Red in 1:00.20. To make the Kentucky Derby, Level Red would need to run a brilliant race in the Santa Anita Derby, Hofmans said. Regardless, he said, Saturday's Santa Anita Derby over 1 1/8 miles is a race worth trying because of the weak field, Hofmans said.

"It's the biggest pot I've ever seen for a nonwinners-of-three," Hofmans said.

Sea of Pleasure changes hands

Sea of Pleasure, who set a two-furlong track record in Thursday's first race, has been transferred from trainer Shane Chipman to Gary Stute.

Sea of Pleasure ran two furlongs in 20.78 seconds, winning his career debut by four lengths.

Chipman is a co-owner of the pinhooking operation B.C.3 Thoroughbreds, which concentrates on preparing horses for 2-year-olds in training sales. In past years, he has started 2-year-olds in early-season races and then returned to his base in Utah to work with younger horses.

Sea of Pleasure could start in the $75,000 Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs on May 27.

Garcia horse tests positive

The California Horse Racing Board has filed a complaint against trainer Oscar Garcia after one of his starters, Super Harmony, the runner-up in the first race on Jan. 28 at Santa Anita, tested positive for cetirizine and hydroxyzine in a post-race test.

Hydroxyzine, a prohibited antihistamine, is used to treat allergies; cetirizine is a metabolite of hydroxyzine. The drugs are listed as Class 3. Trainers whose horses test positive for medications in classes 1, 2, or 3 are subject to possible fines and/or suspensions, and the purses of those races may be redistributed.

Super Harmony earned $5,400 for finishing second in a starter allowance that had a purse of $27,400.

Espinoza must sit out three days

Jockey Victor Espinoza has been given a three-day suspension for his ride aboard Le Cirque in Wednesday's seventh race.

Le Cirque finished first but was disqualified and placed third for causing interference in the stretch.

The suspension begins Thursday and runs through next Saturday, but will not prevent Espinoza from riding Cobalt Blue in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

Through Thursday, Espinoza had 68 wins at this meeting, 13 less than leader Garrett Gomez.

Talamo gets first West Coast win

Apprentice jockey Joseph Talamo, who is riding at Santa Anita this week, scored his first win on this circuit in Thursday's fifth race aboard Lochinvar's Gold.

Friday, Talamo donated $3,000 to the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund in a winner's circle presentation following the first race.

Talamo, 17, won the riding title at Fair Grounds over the winter. He plans to ride in New York this spring, but has not ruled out a return to California later this year.

* Santa Anita Park will begin simulcasting Quarter Horses races from Los Alamitos on Sundays beginning this weekend. Previously, Santa Anita took bets from Los Alamitos only on Fridays and Saturdays.