02/25/2002 1:00AM

Is 'Blues' back to his best form?


ARCADIA, Calif. - With a nagging foot problem in his past, Touch of the Blues launches his 2002 campaign in Wednesday's $75,000 Reb's Policy Handicap at Santa Anita.

If he returns to his 2001 form, Touch of the Blues has an excellent chance to win his first race in the United States.

Run over about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, the Reb's Policy has drawn an oversubscribed field of 12. Only 10 will start since the temporary rails will be 30 feet from the inside on Wednesday, limiting the width of the course.

The leading contenders include Macward, the winner of the Sensational Star Handicap on Jan. 12; Nuclear Debate, a stakes winner in England last September; Lake William, the winner of the 2001 San Simeon Handicap; and El Cielo, who has won his last five starts on the course.

Touch of the Blues was third in his only start on this course, the San Simeon Handicap last year behind Lake William and Macward.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, Touch of the Blues made three more starts in 2001, including a second in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile last June.

After he finished second in the restricted Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar last July, plans for a start in the Breeders' Cup Mile were shelved.

"He had a problem with a foot and we let it grow out," Drysdale said.

In recent weeks, Drysdale has been pleased with the way Touch of the Blues has trained. The 5-year-old Touch of the Blues was a stakes winner in France in September 2000 and will need to be in top form to contend with Wednesday's field.

The participation of El Cielo is unclear. Trainer Craig Dollase said El Cielo is being considered for Saturday's $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile. On the hillside, the 8-year-old El Cielo has won 9 of 12 starts and was second in this race in 2000.

Touch of the Blues and El Cielo figure to dominate the betting, which should leave horses such as Lake William, Macward, and Nuclear Debate at attractive prices.

Macward won his first stakes in the Sensational Star Handicap for California-breds on Jan. 12, which was his first start since August. Trained by Ian Jory, the 6-year-old Macward won the Sensational Star by three-quarters of a length over Echo Eddie, who won last Saturday's Ken Maddy Stakes at Golden Gate Fields.

"He couldn't be training any better," Jory said. "He'll be tough on Wednesday."

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