04/04/2007 12:00AM

Three take a pass on Illinois Derby


CHICAGO - Hawthorne racing officials had hoped a trio of fence-sitting possible starters for Saturday's Illinois Derby would swell the field for the spring meet's biggest race to 12 horses or thereabouts, but the local derby appears headed for something like a nine-horse gate.

Trainer Rick Violette said Wednesday that Summer Doldrums was likely to stay at home in New York for the Wood Memorial, while Kentucky-based Slew's Tizzy and UoD Ghetto were ruled out of the Illinois Derby by their trainers. U D Ghetto is entered in Friday's Grade 3 Transylvania on turf at Keeneland, while plans for Slew's Tizzy still are up in the air.

"We're less than 1 percent unless Cowtown Cat and Cobalt Blue don't run," said Slews Tizzy's trainer, Greg Fox. "Those two horses are really nice."

Cowtown Cat is based in New York, and also was entered Wednesday in the Wood, but he was expected to catch a flight to Kentucky on Thursday, then travel by van to Hawthorne to start Saturday. Cobalt Blue, however, has been stabled in trainer Chris Block's Hawthorne shed row since arriving here last Sunday along with stablemate and fellow Illinois Derby hopeful Family Talk. Family Talk, a private purchase this winter, was fourth last out in an entry-level allowance race at Santa Anita, and trainer Doug O'Neill said he hopes Family Talk, a closer, "can pick up a lot of pieces" on Saturday.

Cobalt Blue, on the other hand, is expected to earn a slot in the Kentucky Derby with a strong performance Saturday. Sweetnorthernsaint was the Kentucky Derby favorite last year off a powerhouse Illinois Derby win, and Greeley's Galaxy went to the Derby with a substantial following after his blowout victory in the 2005 Illinois Derby. Neither of those horses made a dent in the Kentucky Derby, but O'Neill and owner Merv Griffin are hoping Cobalt Blue can alter the pattern. A $325,000 2-year-old by Golden Missile, Cobalt Blue started his career promisingly, winning his debut June 8 at Hollywood Park, but ran poorly in the Best Pal at the Del Mar meet and was forced to miss a couple months of training, putting him behind schedule for the Triple Crown series.

"Mentally, he was playing major league catch-up a couple months ago, but he's done surprisingly well with that," said O'Neill, who has three others, Great Hunter, Liquidity and Notional, still in the Triple Crown picture.

Cobalt Blue won an entry-level sprint allowance Feb. 14 at Santa Anita, his first start since the Best Pal, then made a successful leap to a two-turn graded stakes, winning a watered-down edition of the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 17. At 1 1/16 miles, the San Felipe might only have been scraping the surface of Cobalt Blue's distance ability.

"The way he strides, you'd think a mile and a quarter, a mile and a half would be within range," O'Neill said. "He just looks like he'd be an extremely fast horse for I don't know how long a distance."

O'Neill said he selected the San Felipe-Illinois Derby route to keep Cobalt Blue on a gradual plane leading to the Triple Crown series.

"To win the Derby, I think it takes a mentally tough horse, and I thought avoiding some of the toughest preps would be the best way to get him there," said O'Neill.

The other six probables for Saturday's race are Bold Start, Catman Running, Freesgood, Love Dubai, Quite Acceptable, and Reporting for Duty.

* Three Illinois-bred entry-level allowance races are the highest-class fare on Friday's nine-race card.