06/16/2005 11:00PM

McCann's Mojave revives career

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Mike Willman admits to being speechless while watching his McCann's Mojave midway through the $91,350 Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 11.

Willman, the host of intertrack television programs at Del Mar and Hollywood Park and a weekend radio program, was not sure what to think as McCann's Mojave fought with Congrats in early stretch of the race over 7 1/2 furlongs.

McCann's Mojave was attempting to win his third career stakes, but had not shown that form this year, losing three starts at Santa Anita. Those losses were foremost on Willman's mind during the Ack Ack.

"On the turn, I was thinking, 'Is he going to throw in the towel?' " Willman recalled.

McCann's Mojave, under Jose Valdivia Jr., did the opposite. He fought off Congrats to win by 1 1/2 lengths, finishing in a quick 1:27.23. The victory revived the career of McCann's Mojave, the California-bred champion older male of 2004, and put Willman's mind at ease about the 5-year-old horse's future.

"When he got back on terms [with Congrats], it was gratifying," Willman said. "He ran hard."

Until the Ack Ack, McCann's Mojave's 2004 campaign seemed like the distant past. He had won the Sensational Star Handicap for statebreds and the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap early in the year before finishing a game second to eventual Eclipse Award champion Speightstown in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap.

An injury following that race put an end to the 2004 campaign. When McCann's Mojave returned in January, it was expected that he would resume that form. But a fifth in the El Conejo Handicap, an eighth in the Palos Verdes Handicap, and a fifth in the San Simeon Handicap, all at Santa Anita, led to a barn switch.

Trainer Leonard Dorfman was replaced by Paddy Gallagher. Willman described it as a difficult decision because of his longtime friendship with Dorfman.

The Ack Ack Handicap was McCann's Mojave's first start for Gallagher. The victory improved McCann's Mojave's record to 6 wins in 11 starts and earnings of $345,380.

"I can't express the depth of my happiness," Willman said. "We had the highest of high hopes coming back from Churchill Downs.

"This win is everything. What he did over there on Saturday, it's amazing how much that can pull you up."

McCann's Mojave will be tested in his next start, the $350,000 Triple Bend Handicap over seven furlongs on July 3. The race will mark his first appearance in a Grade 1 race.

By Memo, McCann's Mojave is out of the Nordic Prince mare Joni U. Bar. She is 25, and is likely to be retired as a broodmare despite Willman's efforts this year to get her in foal. She is based at Ridgeley Farm in Hemet, Calif., where Memo stands.

"I bought the mare when she was 17 and she almost died," Willman said. "She was 20 when McCann's Mojave hit the ground. I'm fooling around out there at Ridgeley, but it doesn't look too promising. It looks like the party is over."

In the long-term, McCann's Mojave could be on his way to a stallion career, though Willman knows the colt must win more stakes to attract sufficient attention to be a sire.

"He needs to do it on the track," he said.

More performances like the Ack Ack Handicap will help the cause.