04/26/2007 12:00AM

Inglewood defense for Willow O Wisp


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It's one year later, and Willow O Wisp is back in a familiar spot at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

Just as in 2006, Willow O Wisp will carry 117 pounds in the $100,000 Inglewood Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf. Once again, he will be favored.

The unknown factor is whether he can successfully defend his title in the Grade 3 race.

Trainer Vladimir Cerin shied away from making a prediction earlier this week, questioning how the race will unfold. Willow O Wisp usually runs on the lead, and the race appears to have a decent amount of pace. Among the eight in the field is the speedy Railroad, who has placed in graded stakes.

Cerin does not expect Willow O Wisp to be on the lead, and hopes that he can be effective as a stalker. Willow O Wisp led throughout the 2006 Inglewood. In 2005, he was a game second racing from off the pace in the Will Rogers Stakes.

"It might be a little better for him not to be on the lead," Cerin said.

The Inglewood will be the first meeting of the last two winners of the Del Mar Derby, Willow O Wisp (2005) and Get Funky (2006)

Owned by Robert Alexander, Willow O Wisp has started once this year, finishing third in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap over a mile at Santa Anita on April 7. Willow O Wisp led to the final furlong and finished a half-length behind winner Icy Atlantic.

The Arcadia was Willow O Wisp's first start since a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile last May.

"He needed the race," Cerin said of the Arcadia. "I was pretty happy with it."

Get Funky's last stakes win came in the Del Mar Derby, but he did win an allowance race on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on March 24.

"What was impressive about his last race is that he had to take up coming onto the dirt," trainer John Sadler said. "He had that trouble and still ran those horses down."

Conversely, After Market, who will be at the back of the field early, did not recover from trouble in an allowance race at Santa Anita on March 31. He finished fifth, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Stormin Away, an Inglewood starter.

After Market won two graded stakes in New York last year.