10/07/2006 12:00AM

Difficult comeback spot for Whilly


ARCADIA, Calif. - In his first start in more than six months, Whilly faces a difficult test in Monday's $60,000 War Chant Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.

The War Chant has not drawn the world-class competition that Whilly has faced in the last year, but for a restricted race at a mile on turf it has a strong field.

Trainer Doug O'Neill insists that Whilly is ready for a comeback.

A winner of 8 of 21 starts and $905,482, Whilly is making his first start since finishing 11th in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free Stakes in Dubai last March. The winner of the Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood Park in July 2005 and four stakes in his career, Whilly finished third behind The Tin Man in the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes in January, his only other start of 2006.

O'Neill said Whilly has trained well on Hollywood Park's new synthetic surface in recent weeks after needing the summer off.

"In the last three or four weeks, he's going as good as he was before Dubai," O'Neill said. "He came back from Dubai in a funk - a little body-sore. We gave him a little time and he's flourished."

To win the War Chant Stakes, Whilly must beat the Argentine Group 1 stakes winners Don Incauto and Strawberry Lake; Quasimodo, who chased top turf miler Aragorn in two major stakes at Del Mar; and Unfurl the Flag, the sharp winner of an optional claimer on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 23.

The race has drawn 14 entrants, but will have a safety limit of 12 starters.

Unfurl the Flag is using the race as a prep to the $175,000 California Cup Mile here on Oct. 28. Trained by David Bernstein, Unfurl the Flag won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap on dirt in July 2005.

Quasimodo won four consecutive races from January through May, three at Santa Anita, before finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap and Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap.

The race marks the California debut of Set Alight, a stakes winner in France last year. Set Alight has not started since finishing 13th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park in October.

Trained by Bobby Frankel for Juddmonte Farm, Set Alight has won 3 of 7 starts. Last year, he won the Group 3 Prix Thomas Byron at about a mile in France.