04/02/2007 11:00PM

O'Neill has tarnished diamond ready to shine

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PHOENIX - Next Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby may not be shaping up as the strongest edition we've seen, but for one horse in particular it still may be the race of his life.

Trainer Doug O'Neill has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to 3-year-olds, with such promising Derby hopefuls as Great Hunter, Notional, and Cobalt Blue. Liquidity, though, may hold the most promise - O'Neill has said that Liquidity may actually have the most talent of his 3-year-olds.

Liquidity made quite a splash last summer, winning his debut at Oak Tree at Santa Anita with a Beyer Speed Figure of 94. It was enough to prompt O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam to send him to Belmont for the Grade 1 Champagne and a shot at Scat Daddy and Nobiz Like Shobiz. Liquidity stalked the pace and retreated badly, ending up ninth.

O'Neill didn't give up on Liquidity, but he regrouped. Liquidity returned West and got back on track. He was third in Hollywood's Real Quiet on Nov. 4 and then added blinkers for the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity and ran lights-out, finishing a strong second, beaten a neck by Stormello. Things looked good for Liquidity for 2007.

He began the year with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Sham, beaten by the highly promising Ravel, who was injured recently and is now off the Derby trail. Liquidity earned a Beyer Figure of 100 in the Sham, and his effort was strong considering the race shape of the Sham worked against him. The Sham turned into a sprint late, and Liquidity doesn't strike me as a push-button horse, but a grinder. The form of that race was flattered when the third-place finisher, Song of Navarone, came back to win the $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park.

Liquidity, a son of two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow, took to the road again, this time for the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby March 10 at Fair Grounds. The Louisiana Derby looked like a chance to put his name among the top of the division, but Liquidity ran sixth. He prompted a slow pace under Corey Nakatani, and when the real racing began he had nothing to offer and backed out of it.

O'Neill took the blame. He said he babied Liquidity, didn't train him hard enough. Now the Santa Anita Derby gives Liquidity a chance to get back into the conversation.

O'Neill has taken a more aggressive approach with Liquidity's training. He put Liquidity through a strong 58.40-second five-furlong move at Hollywood on March 24, the second-best of 67 works that day at that distance.

With no stars in the field - King of the Roxy, Bwana Bull, and Sam P. are the other top contenders - Liquidity may be the favorite. He'll need to act like it. Unlike some other 3-year-olds who just need a good race to progress toward Churchill Downs, Liquidity needs to explode back onto the scene. His chance comes Saturday.P

Stamina hardly outdated

For the past few years we've been hearing laments about the preponderance of "sprint" pedigrees and a lack of stamina in breeding. But that doesn't hold true in regard to last year's top 3-year-olds, or this year's, either.

Last year's Derby winner, Barbaro, was by stamina sire Dynaformer. The country's other top 3-year-old, Bernardini, was by the Belmont winner and Breeders' Cup Classic winner A. P. Indy, known as a stamina sire.

Check out this year's top 3-year-olds and their sires: Street Sense, who is by Street Cry, a Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs; Any Given Saturday, by Distorted Humor, who produced Derby winner Funny Cide; Circular Quay, by Derby winner Thunder Gulch; Nobiz Like Shobiz, by Albert the Great, a Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs; Great Hunter, by Aptitude, a Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs; Curlin, by Smart Strike, a Grade 1 winner at nine furlongs; Cobalt Blue, by Golden Missile, a Grade 1 winner at 1 3/16 miles; Adore the Gold, by Formal Gold, a Grade 1 winner at nine furlongs; Liquidity, by Tiznow, a two-time BC Classic winner; Hard Spun, by Danzig, who produced champions Chief's Crown and Dance Smartly.

In other words, reports of the demise of the great stamina sires have been greatly exaggerated.

Turf division up for grabs

How topsy-turvy is the turf distance division out West?

When Fourty Niners Son won last Saturday's Grade 2 San Luis Rey, he was the eighth different winner in the last eight middle-distance turf stakes in Southern California. The races and winners of the first seven were: San Luis Obispo (Obrigado), San Gabriel (King's Drama), Hollywood Turf Cup (Boboman), Citation (Ashkal Way), Carleton F. Burke (Symphony Sid), Clement L. Hirsch Turf (The Tin Man), and the Del Mar Handicap (T.H. Approval).

The last repeat winner in the division was T.H. Approval, who won the Sunset Handicap at Hollywood before the Del Mar Handicap.