01/19/2007 12:00AM

Obrigado primed for breakthrough

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PHOENIX - Obrigado is like a car with a V-8 engine. When the gas is put to the floor he can flat motor. Trouble is, Obrigado hasn't been able to get into gear in his races until the winner is long gone, resulting in a series of second-place finishes. Now 4, Obrigado will try to take the next step when he confronts elders for the first time in Sunday's Grade 2 San Marcos Handicap at Santa Anita.

There's no doubt the distance of 1o1/4 miles will be no problem for Obrigado, who is trained by Neil Drysdale. He has already shown he can finish well at such a trip.

He won a division of the Oceanside at Del Mar, earning a berth in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby. As usual, he bided his time in the Del Mar Derby and closed strongly, but by then the winner, Get Funky, had already kicked clear, and Obrigado had to settle for second. He came back in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby, and again powered home. Trouble was, European invader Dark Islander ran like a monster and had already blown the race wide open. Another good run, another frustrating second.

Then, his last time out was his biggest test yet. Among his opponents in the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Hollywood Derby were Dark Islander, the European threat Ivan Denisovich, and the 3-year-old turf kingpin Showing Up.

Not surprisingly, Obrigado was well back early in that Nov. 26 outing, the last of 10 through the run up the backstretch. He started to pick up a head of steam and again bowled home, blowing by the spent Dark Islander (who for some reason set the pace), outkicking Ivan Denisovich, and powering to the line. Trouble was, Showing Up had kicked clear into the lane and said to his foes, "That's all, folks." Obrigado's finish was impressive, to be sure, but Showing Up was in a different league. Another good effort and another frustration.

In the San Marcos, the main stumbling block comes in the form of Boboman. He had always hinted at big-time ability, but a series of setbacks had kept him from delivering on that promise - at least until this fall. He posted two strong allowance victories and rolled home to win the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup Dec. 9. While the San Marcos is a quarter-mile shorter, Boboman won at 1 1/4 miles on this course over first-level allowance foes Oct. 7.

The small field of the San Marcos may give Obrigado an advantage over Boboman. Obrigado won't have to find room and weave through traffic, as he did in big fields in his previous races. Boboman's good, but it may be Obrigado's turn to have everything fall his way.

Exhale looks like the real deal

In case you missed it this past Monday, another name was added to the long list of potential Derby horses - Exhale, who was dazzling in a maiden win.

He made a terrific first appearance at Oak Tree at Santa Anita on Oct. 21. He dueled early through fast splits and stayed on for second to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 98. Notional beat Exhale by 2 1/2 lengths that day, and he went on to win the Grade 2 San Rafael at Santa Anita.

Meanwhile, trainer John Sadler bided his time with Exhale and it was worth the wait. Exhale resurfaced in a maiden sprint at Santa Anita Jan. 15. He stalked the pace while traveling very comfortably, easily pulled his way to the lead, and then drew off to win with ease by five lengths. The Beyer Figure came back a 102.

Good as he looked in his maiden win, Exhale might get even better over more ground. His sire, Millennium Wind, was top-class, finishing second to Point Given in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity at 2 and winning the Grade 1 Blue Grass at 3. Exhale is out of a Manila mare, so he has the pedigree to go long, and he is kin to Private Horde, a graded stakes winner who earned $756,451.

Exhale looks like the complete package. He has speed but isn't speed-crazy. He has a pedigree that says he can sustain that speed. He seems professional, as he took dirt Monday and didn't bat an eye. And he hails from a barn that has been on a roll the past half-year or so. Consider yourself warned.