02/12/2007 1:00AM

Lofty hopes linger with Cobalt Blue


ARCADIA, Calif. - Cobalt Blue was frequently mentioned as a 2-year-old to watch last summer after a flashy maiden win at Hollywood Park. He disappeared from that list after finishing seventh in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, his final start of 2006.

Owned by Merv Griffin, Cobalt Blue missed the last of 2006 because of injury, but returns in a $50,000 allowance race at six furlongs at Santa Anita on Wednesday. Trainer Doug O'Neill is using the race to gauge whether Cobalt Blue deserves to start in a Kentucky Derby prep in March.

"Merv and I talk about it all the time, and that's his dream," O'Neill said of the Kentucky Derby. "But I think time has gotten away from us. He sure has the body and a pedigree to train like that kind of special horse."

After the Best Pal, Cobalt Blue was found to have strained a ligament in a hind leg, O'Neill said.

"We turned him out at Merv's ranch," O'Neill said. "He's doing unbelievably well."

While O'Neill said that Cobalt Blue is "a workout or two away" from being at his best, the trainer wants to give the colt a start on Wednesday as a potential prep for the $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park on March 18.

"We need to see an impressive performance," O'Neill said. "We're probably running out of time" for the Kentucky Derby.

Cobalt Blue has drawn the rail and will be ridden for the first time by jockey Garrett Gomez. Cobalt Blue is unlikely to have the early lead, a role that will go to Can This Be True or Street Lights.

Cobalt Blue is one of three horses returning from a layoff of at least six weeks.

Street Lights will be making his first start since finishing seventh in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes here on Dec. 26. Trained by Carla Gaines, Street Lights was second in the I'm Smokin Stakes at Del Mar last September.

Pawnee was sixth in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes on Nov. 18 in his most recent race. He won a maiden race at seven furlongs in late October.

Can This Be True is a winner at this meeting, having beaten maidens in a six-furlong race on Jan. 1.

Larry by the Lake is after his fourth win in his seventh start. Trained by John Sadler, he won a maiden claimer, a starter allowance, and a $50,000 claimer last year, but was fourth in a Jan. 12 optional claimer.