Cobalt Blue renews Griffin's Derby dream

The Baltimore Sun

Television personality and Hollywood business mogul Merv Griffin is 81 years old. He proves you don't have to be a teenager to have dreams.

Griffin's dream started last year with a horse named Stevie Wonderboy. The 2-year-old champion was the early favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, until the dream went poof when he suffered a hairline fracture in his right front ankle.

But the creator of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune - and a new reality show in production called Dream Horse Derby, which will show new owners and horses in the sport and give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at racing - is once more dreaming about the first Saturday in May.

The 3-year-old igniting the owner's vision is Cobalt Blue, a less-accomplished 3-year-old than Stevie Wonderboy, but one with good size and what Griffin calls a will to run.

Cobalt Blue is to run today in the Grade II, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, which will be shown live with the Grade III, $300,000 Rebel Stakes from 7 to 8 p.m. on ESPN. A third prep, The Tampa Bay Derby, in which 2006 2-year-old champion Street Sense is to make his much-anticipated 3-year-old debut, also will be shown on same-day tape delay.

"I don't think I'm hungrier to get to Louisville," Griffin said during a conference call this week. "Hungry is really not the word. Anxious, you know. This is the time now where everything gets switched around. We'll have three races under his belt, and if you notice his first race was on Valentine's Day. This one's on St. Patrick's Day. I only run my horses on holidays. The Kentucky Derby is a holiday all over America. Everybody waits for that race. I mean, it's the epitome of winning the big event.

"I know all the words to 'My Old Kentucky Home' and, well, I wouldn't be shy about pushing the singer out of the way and doing it myself."

If you want enthusiasm, Merv Griffin is your man.

His horse has won two of only three career starts. But after his one loss in the Grade II Best Pal Stakes, he was discovered to have a strained muscle in his hind quarter. Now he's well. In his most recent outing, Feb. 14, he won a six-furlong allowance at Santa Anita with a come-from-behind sprint.

"We didn't expect that, because we're all counting on him going long distance," Griffin said of the Florida-bred, sired by A.P. Indy offspring Golden Missile, "In this race, the San Felipe, he needs to do well."

The San Felipe is 1 1/16 miles, and it will be Cobalt Blue's first time going around two turns. But he could win, given that his competition does not include one stakes winner. One horse he will have to watch out for, however, is Air Commander, trained by Bob Baffert, who has won his past two races.

Griffin said he was sad for a long time after Stevie Wonderboy was injured in February 2006.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I thought we were well on our way and he would've won it. I'll never forget that phone call from Doug [O'Neil, the trainer]. ... He called and he said, 'Bad news,' and I went, 'Oh, God, don't tell me he got hurt,' and that was it. And it was really sad."

But Cobalt Blue is helping Griffin dream again, while he waits for Stevie Wonderboy to make his 4-year-old debut later this year. Like Stevie, Cobalt is a big colt. Griffin said he was named Cobalt Blue for his stable colors of cobalt blue and white, but also because of the way it sounds.

"There's something wonderful about that name, Cobalt Blue," he said. "I like horses' names with a little action. I know Cobalt isn't an action word, but it certainly sounds like it. It sounds like a secret missile."

If Cobalt Blue wins today, he won't be a secret much longer.

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