Cobalt Blue got back into Triple Crown contention with an impressive wire-to-wire performance in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) after an impressive allowance win at Santa Anita Park on February 14. In that race the striking chestnut appeared beaten turning for home before changing leads and accelerating to power past the leaders for a one-length win in a commendable 1:09.12 for the six-furlongs.
That was his first start since August 13 when he finished seventh in the Best Pal Stakes (G2) at Del Mar. The colt came out of the Best Pal with a strained ligament in a hind leg and was turned out at Merv Griffin's ranch.
The San Felipe victory was a testament to how well the colt has been brought back into Triple Crown contention, and jockey Victor Espinoza had nothing but praise after the San Felipe.
"When you're on his back you can feel his power," Espinoza said. "It's great to have a horse like this for the Derby."
Cobalt Blue was originally consigned to the August 2005 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga open yearling sale and purchased for Robert LaPenta by trainer Nick Zito as agent for $100,000. Zito was extremely high on the colt, but his enthusiasm was short-lived when Cobalt Blue was sent to a Florida sale where Dennis O'Neill, trainer Doug O'Neill's brother, picked him up for what they consider the bargain price of $325,000.
Dennis O'Neill felt that they were getting a horse who would be best at longer distances--such as a mile and a quarter and beyond--making his six-furlong win after a long layoff all the more impressive. The San Felipe, at 1 1/16-miles, was his firat start around two turns, and Espinoza was able to set a moderate pace that had trainer Doug O'Neill smiling.
"I sure felt confident, but you never know when a colt has never gone two turns if they're really going to hold up. But it couldn't have been a better debut for a two-turn race," O'Neill said.
Shipped to Hawthorne Race Course where he was favored in the Illinois Derby (G2), Cobalt Blue suffered an apparent setback when he failed to mount any threat, finishing seventh of nine.
"As soon as he came out of the gate, he started struggling and slipping around on the track," jockey Victor Espinoza said after the Illinois Derby. "He was kind of empty at the half-mile pole. I asked him and started riding him, but he was just kind of feeling around and wasn't going anywhere."
March 30 - Six furlongs handily in 1:13.80 at Hollywood Park (all weather track).
April 20 - Five furlongs breezing in 1:01.80 at Keeneland Race Course (all weather track).
Trainer Doug O'Neill, after the San Felipe victory:
"He looks great and ate up like a tiger. He's so big and strong, he was just dragging the hot walker back to the test barn."
Shigeki Kikkawa photo