09/03/2006 11:00PM

O'Neill seeks another 'Stevie'

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Prime Ruler, a Futurity contender trained by Chris Paasch, overcame trouble to win his maiden.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Stevie Wonderboy won last year's Del Mar Futurity and parlayed that into a victory two months later in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. On Wednesday at Del Mar, seven other 2-year-olds will be attempting to follow in his footsteps. Only one, though, shares the same trainer.

Doug O'Neill is the leading trainer at the meet heading into the final day. This summer, he already has won the Pacific Classic with Lava Man. He can cap the meet in style if Great Hunter can give him his second straight victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 Futurity, which is the highlight of the 10-race closing-day card at Del Mar.

Great Hunter was purchased privately by owner Paul Reddam after a pair of races earlier this year at Lone Star Park. Since arriving on this circuit, Great Hunter has rallied to finish second in both the Hollywood Juvenile Championship to EZ Warrior and the Best Pal Stakes to Principle Secret. Neither EZ Warrior (sore shins) nor Principle Secret is running in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity.

Great Hunter, who will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, drew the outside post, which delighted O'Neill. "It's awesome," O'Neill said. "We've got the luxury of seeing what goes on inside of us."

Great Hunter is adding blinkers for this race. Last week, he breezed four furlongs in 47.80 seconds.

"If the workout in blinkers the other day is any indication of how he'll run, he'll be closer to the pace than he has been in his first couple of races for us," O'Neill said. "He should be a lot more involved and focused."

Great Hunter figures to vie for favoritism with Prime Ruler, whose debut win on Aug. 5 was remarkable. After breaking poorly, Prime Ruler lagged well behind the field under jockey Alex Solis, then took hold on the turn, roared past his rivals at midstretch, and won going away, all in the space of 5 1/2 furlongs.

"After he came out of the gate, I thought, 'Well, this will be a schooling race,' " said Chris Paasch, who trains Prime Ruler. "At the quarter pole, I thought, 'He's got a shot.' And at the eighth pole, it was, 'How much is he going to win by?' I couldn't talk for a day, I screamed so much. Hopefully he runs back to that race."

Prime Ruler is the lone representative in the race for Paasch and owner Charles Cono, who decided they did not want to run Principle Secret back less than a month after his win in the Best Pal on Aug. 13.

Horse Greeley has had a productive summer at Del Mar. After finishing second in his debut in a maiden race to Principle Secret, he romped to a four-length victory against maidens on Aug. 12. Horse Greeley rallied in his debut, then showed sharp speed in his second start when breaking from the rail.

"We had to go on with him from the 1-hole last time," said Richard Mandella, who trains Horse Greeley. "But he's very tractable if there's some blazing speed in the race."

Caped for Flight figures to go for the lead. He has set or forced fast fractions in both his starts, including a victory against maidens on Aug. 26. His trainer, Brian Koriner, has had a sensational meet, winning with 9 of 21 starters entering Monday's card. Caped for Flight was fourth when Prime Ruler beat maidens on Aug. 5.

Stormello was third in the Best Pal, 2 1/2 lengths behind Great Hunter, after pressing the early pace. He has run two strong races since adding blinkers. Kent Desormeaux, who has an off day in New York on Wednesday, will be in for the mount.

Divide and Conquer was fifth in the Best Pal. He won his first start with jockey Clinton Potts, who rides Wednesday.

Lucky Thirteen comes off an easy win against California-bred maidens in his second start and his first with blinkers.