12/20/2007 1:00AM

Blackbird heads into Cactus Wren on a roll

EmailBlackbird found his best form at Canterbury last summer, and since then he has ridden a wave of momentum that takes him into the $45,000 Cactus Wren Handicap at Turf Paradise as the 121-pound highweight and favorite. A 6-year-old gelding, Blackbird has won four in a row going into the 6 1/2-furlong event for Arizona-bred 3-year-olds and up.

Owned by Ronald Lingle and James Brown and trained by David Van Winkle, Blackbird hinted at ability here last March, easily winning a $10,000 claimer. But he was no factor in the Grand Canyon for statebreds here last April. Van Winkle claimed him for $4,000 at Canterbury on June 23 and he has been a different horse since. He won a starter allowance there July 13, then won a $7,500 claimer in the slop Aug. 18.

Blackbird was off for a couple of months, came to Turf Paradise, and promptly aired against $8,000 claimers on Oct. 10, followed by a smashing win in the Last Don B for Arizona-breds on Oct. 26. He hasn't raced since, and as long as he comes back in the same form that he had in late October, he figures tough to deny.

King Justin comes off a tough beat, finishing a close third in the Petro D. Jay at Turf Paradise on Nov. 25 at 4o1/2 furlongs on the turf. He's won 14 times - 12 times on dirt, and 10 times at Turf Paradise. Trained by Ed Kereluk, he figures to be winging early under Jocelyne Kenny.

Corporal Tillman, trained by Kevin Eikleberry, finished third in the Grand Canyon versus this kind of opposition last April, beating Blackbird. Most recently he finished third behind Blackbird in the Last Don B.

Turf Paradise has live racing through the weekend, is open for simulcasting only Monday and Wednesday, and is closed Christmas Day, Tuesday. Live racing resumes Thursday.

- Michael Hammersly