04/21/2005 11:00PM

Has long rest revitalized Willie the Cat?

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AUBURN, Wash. - Willie the Cat will have eight challengers when he attempts to repeat in Sunday's $40,000 Seattle Handicap at Emerald Downs.

Willie the Cat, a 6-year-old gray from the barn of trainer Tim McCanna, won last year's six-furlong Seattle Handicap in the second of three straight spectacular performances here. Coming off a world record performance in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race, Willie the Cat led throughout to win the 2004 Seattle by 1 3/4 lengths over Best on Tap in 1:07.80. He followed that effort with another front-running score in the 6 1/2- furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap, which he won by a length in 1:14.40.

Willie the Cat's Beyers declined from 104 to 98 to 92 through his win streak, however, and those who detected a trend were proven right. Though he raced four more times at the meeting, he never finished better than third or scored higher than 84 on the Beyer scale.

Willie the Cat got the entire winter off, however, and McCanna said he feels the freshening has restored the horse's vigor. Regular rider Ricky Frazier has the mount at 119 pounds.

Southern California invader Siren Lure and Slewicide Cruise are the co-highweights in the field, each carrying 120 pounds.

Siren Lure, who was recently claimed for $62,500 by trainer Keith Bennett, will be making his stakes debut after winning 3 of 7 starts at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. In his most recent effort, on March 25, Siren Lure led throughout to win a 6 1/2-furlong grass race in 1:14. He also owns two six-furlong wins on dirt, leading throughout in both of those victories.

Slewicide Cruise, a 5-year-old trained by Robbie Baze, will be shooting for his fourth straight win after ending his 4-year-old campaign with panache. Slewicide Cruise defeated $40,000 optional claiming runners going 6 1/2 furlongs on Sept. 5, then scored in both the six-furlong Chinook Pass Handicap here and the six-furlong Inaugural Handicap at Portland Meadows before taking the winter off. Slewicide Cruise comes from slightly off the pace and may be the prime beneficiary if Willie the Cat and Siren Lure are caught in a pace duel.

Also a threat is Prize Weaver, who defeated both Slewicide Cruise and Willie the Cat when he won last year's five-furlong Owner's Handicap in 56 seconds on Longacres Mile Day, Aug. 22.