Trainer Doug O'Neill work all three of his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopefuls six furlongs over the Polytrack at Keeneland Racecourse Friday, and the trio all took important steps forward for the May 5 Run for the Roses.
Merv Griffin's Cobalt Blue was the first O'Neill trainee to hit the synthetic surface when he went off under exercise rider Tony Romero at 7:30 a.m. Cobalt Blue, winner of the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) in March, but coming off a disappointing seventh in the Illinois Derby (gr. II), was striding out well early in his work, then found himself with a target as another worker ahead of him on the track came into his sights.
Although O'Neill thought the son of Golden Missile "lost interest" late in the work, he was clocked in a snappy 1:11.3. The robust Cobalt Blue, who carries a wide girth, clearly got something out of the work, as he was blowing hard coming off the track. "He needed a stiff work," said O'Neill. "The rider got into him a little bit."
A little after 9 a.m., J. Paul Reddam's Great Hunter hit the Polytrack under Romero. The winner of last year's Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland, who also took this year's Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) at Santa Anita, was coming off a troubled fifth-place finish in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Bowing his neck, the son of Aptitude broke off just before the six-furlong mark and cruised through fractions of :12.2, :25, :37, :48.3, and 1:00.2 before finishing up in 1:13 and galloping out in 1:26.3. His neck was still bowed after the work, and O'Neill commented that "he looks like a show horse" as he watched him on Keeneland's big screen after the work.
Great Hunter was hardly blowing at all as he stepped off the track. "He got into a good, comfortable stride, and when Tony changed grips on him near the 3/8s and asked for more, he picked it up and really responded," said O'Neill, who had predicted beforehand that the work would go in 1:13.1.
Reddam's Liquidity hit the track at 9:45 a.m. The son of Tiznow was a disappointing fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) after another mediocre run in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). O'Neill told Romero he wanted a strong start as well as finish from Liquidity. "He's coming off a sub-par effort, plus he'll be running early and late in the Derby, so we want more out of him," O'Neill stated.
Liquidity did his part, going out in :12.2, :24, :35.4, and :59.3 before finishing up in 1:11.3 and galloping out in 1:24.3. Romero cracked Liquidity twice with the whip nearing the 1/4 pole and once more coming down the stretch to keep his mind on business.
"All of them worked fantastic," O'Neill said after the efforts. "Liquidity and Cobalt Blue put in big efforts early and late, and Great Hunter cruised fantastically."
Also working for the California-based O'Neill was Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) prospect Mistical Plan, who went six furlongs in 1:13.2, and Humana Distaff (gr. I) hopeful Maryfield, who went the same distance in the same time.
O'Neill will ship his horses to Churchill Downs Sunday. He plans to jog them Monday and then gallop them. "I like working them eight or nine days before a race," he said. "It gives them time if anything goes wrong."