02/14/2009 12:00AM

Song of Navarone tougher than ever

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SUNLAND PARK, N.M. - Song of Navarone, a winner of 3 of his 4 races since returning from a life-threatening illness that sidelined him for a year and a half, ranks as the one to beat in Sunday's $50,000 Curribot Handicap at Sunland Park. A 5-year-old trained by Henry Dominguez, Song of Navarone will carry 124 pounds in the 1 1/16-mile headliner and will concede from four to nine pounds to his six rivals.

"He had a very serious stomach virus," Dominguez said earlier in the week. "He was off a long time and we almost lost him, but he seems to be back and as good as ever."

As good as ever, indeed. The winner of the lucrative WinStar Derby in March 2007, he returned to action in October 2008 and made short work of an optional claiming field. After an unplaced effort in the Veteran Stakes at Zia Park on Nov. 8, Song of Navarone has reeled off two stakes wins - the $200,000 Zia Park Distance Challenge in December and the Winsham Lad Handicap here in early January. He continues to train well for Dominguez, as evidenced by a five-furlong drill in 1:00 on Feb. 8. That move was the fastest of the morning at the distance.

"He continues to do well," Dominguez said. "We are hoping for a big year from him."

Antonio Castanon, aboard for Song of Navarone's last two victories, once again will be in the saddle.

One Lucky Buck appears to be the biggest roadblock to Song of Navarone's continued comeback.

Now trained by Chris Hartman, One Lucky Buck will be making his first start for his new barn following a sixth-place finish in the Winsham Lad. Before that dull effort, the 6-year-old ran second to Song of Navarone in the Zia Distance Challenge. Ken Tohill will take over the riding chores at 120 pounds.

Real Dandy, a once-prominent stakes performer for trainer Steve Asmussen and an earner of over $1 million, will be seeking his first trip to the winner's circle since taking the 2007 edition of the Curribot. He will carry 117 pounds on Sunday, including Luis Contreras.

Also rated at 117 pounds is Awesome Launch. The 4-year-old is another who will be starting for a new trainer, as J.R. Gonzalez Jr. will saddle the 4-year-old Awesome Again colt. He comes off a third-level allowance triumph here in mid-December. Alejandro Medellin will be on board.