01/08/2009 12:00AM

Song of Navarone better with blinkers off

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Song of Navarone made a key equipment change in his last start and the result was a track-record performance. Saturday, he will be looking for his second straight stakes win when he starts in the $50,000 Winsham Lad Handicap at Sunland Park.

Song of Navarone is the 122-pound highweight for the one-mile race following his win in the $200,000 Distance Championship at Zia Park on Dec. 7. He closed from next-to-last that afternoon to cover 1 1/8 miles in a track-record time of 1:50.40.

"We took the blinkers off of him, got him to relax where he wasn't on the bit so much, and I think that helped him," said Henry Dominguez, who trains Song of Navarone for George E. Coleman.

The Winsham Lad is something of a homecoming stakes for Song of Navarone, who has not raced at Sunland since he won the $600,000 WinStar Derby there in March 2007. A few months following the victory he was sidelined by a stomach virus, and did not return to action until last October at Zia. Song of Navarone won an optional claiming allowance from off the pace in his comeback, then dueled on the lead and finished fifth in the $55,000 Veterans Stakes in November.

"He was real fresh and rank," Dominguez said of the horse's performance in the Veterans, which led the trainer to remove blinkers for the Distance Championship.

Antonio Castanon has the mount on Song of Navarone.

The chief threat could be One Lucky Buck, the winner of last year's $100,000 Sunland Park Handicap. He is 3 for 3 over the local track, and was second last out in the Distance Championship. Mark Villa has the mount for trainer Bart Hone.

The nine-horse field also includes shippers Waco Hug, who has won his last three starts, including the $75,000 Star of Texas Stakes at Retama Park, and Forty Grams, an optional claiming winner two starts back at Churchill Downs.