10/09/2008 12:00AM

O'Neill acquires second contender


Two weeks ago, after Azul Leon finished sixth in the Grade 1 Norfolk, it looked like trainer Doug O'Neill would be just one of the crowd in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

But the developments of last weekend may have elevated O'Neill to leader of the pack when the Juvenile is run on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. The eye-catching victory by Square Eddie in last weekend's Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, coupled with several key defections, likely catapults Square Eddie to the favorite's role in what is shaping up as a wide-open Juvenile.

The key defections from the Juvenile include Vineyard Haven, the Hopeful and Champagne winner, and Charitable Man, the Futurity winner. Trainer Bobby Frankel is likely to put Vineyard Haven away until next year. Charitable Man sustained a fractured shin. Another likely defection is the undefeated Run Away and Hide, who has not raced since Aug.o15 and has only two works since. That trio combined to win 8 of 9 starts and five graded stakes.

Though Square Eddie won the Futurity for trainer John Best, he was turned over to O'Neill by owner Paul Reddam following the race. Reddam purchased Square Eddie just prior to the Futurity. Square Eddie flew to Southern California on Monday and is bedded down in O'Neill's Santa Anita barn. The horse jogged Wednesday at Santa Anita was to begin galloping on Thursday.

"He looks fantastic,'' O'Neill said Wednesday from California. "For a young horse it's amazing how much traveling he's done, but you would never know it.''

O'Neill credited agent Jamie McAlmont for bringing the horse to Reddam's attention. After looking at two of the colt's races on the Internet, Reddam made the purchase. Square Eddie, a son of Smart Strike, had raced at four different tracks in Britain before coming to the U.S.

O'Neill remains high on Azul Leon, winner of the Hollywood Juvenile and Best Pal Stakes - the latter via disqualification - and plans to run both in the Breeders' Cup.

"I feel like I'm going into the Juvenile with two really good chances," said O'Neill, who won the 2005 Juvenile with Stevie Wonderboy.

Terrain, the runner-up from the Futurity, is "50-50'' to run in the Juvenile, trainer Al Stall said. Pioneerof the Nile, third in the Futurity, is also possible, according to Sobhy Sonbol, racing manager for owner Ahmed Zayat.

Trainer Todd Pletcher shipped Champagne runner-up Munnings to Southern California on Monday to begin preparations for the Juvenile. Pletcher is also planning to run Silent Valor in the Juvenile. Silent Valor finished fifth in the Norfolk, his first start on the Pro-Ride surface and first around two turns.

The top three finishers from the Norfolk - Street Hero, Midshipman, and Believe in Hope - are all still pointing to the Juvenile. Owner/trainer Myung Kwon Cho said Street Hero has done very well since his Norfolk victory, and he plans to work him just once before the Juvenile.

"He is ready for that race,'' Cho said. "I just breeze him once to make sure his condition is okay. He's come back very good and he's training well.''

Midshipman breezed six furlongs in 1:13.80 on Monday for trainer Bob Baffert. Believe in Hope breezed four furlongs in 49.80 seconds at Santa Anita on Wednesday. Though his trainer, Ron Ellis, is based at Hollywood Park, he left Believe in Hope at Santa Anita to train.

Coronet of a Baron, second to Midshipman in the Del Mar Futurity, worked six furlongs in 1:13.40 Monday over the Pro-Ride for trainer Eoin Harty. Midshipman breezed five furlongs in 1:00 over the Pro-Ride on Tuesday for trainer Bob Baffert.

West Side Bernie, winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, shipped to California on Monday for New Jersey-based trainer Kelly Breen. Breen plans to get two works into West Side Bernie over the Pro-Ride surface before the Juvenile.

Trainer Reade Baker is considering running the maiden winner Monty's Best and/or Grey Stakes runner-up Bear's Conductor in the Juvenile.