10/13/2005 12:00AM

Versatility an advantage for Willow O Wisp


ARCADIA, Calif. - Whether he races on the lead or near the pace, Willow O Wisp has taken control of the 3-year-old turf division in California this year.

His versatility has resulted in three consecutive stakes wins and made Willow O Wisp a strong favorite in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Oak Tree Derby over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Santa Anita.

Regardless of how the race develops, trainer Vladimir Cerin said he is convinced that Willow O Wisp is ready.

"He can do it any way he needs," Cerin said. "If they go fast, he can do that, and if they go slow, he can go and get them. It's worked out pretty good so far."

Owned by Robert Alexander, led throughout the Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park in June and the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 5. On Aug. 13 at Del Mar, he was just behind the pacesetter in the La Jolla Handicap before taking the lead in the final strides.

"I would prefer to see him off the pace and have him finish well with a target to run at," Cerin said. "Last time, there was a tangle at the break."

In the Del Mar Derby, Willow O Wisp set a quick pace, led by 2 1/2 lengths in midstretch, and held off a late run from Tedo and Osidy to win by a length.

In the Oak Tree Derby, Willow O Wisp has seven opponents, including Tedo and Osidy. Follow the Rainbow makes his turf debut. Trained by Bob Baffert, Follow the Rainbow won his stakes debut in the El Cajon Stakes over a mile on dirt at Del Mar on Sept. 3.

, trained by Doug O'Neill, is making his second start in the United States. A stakes winner in Italy in June, Tedo made his U.S. debut in the Del Mar Derby, where he had a poor start but rallied well through the stretch.

, trained by Richard Mandella, holds the distinction of being the only horse to beat Willow O Wisp since he arrived from Florida last spring. Osidy edged Willow O Wisp by a head in the Will Rogers Stakes at Hollywood Park in May.

The Oak Tree Derby is the U.S. debut of Brecon Beacon, an English import who cleared quarantine on Thursday. Brecon Beacon was second of 21 in the Britannia Handicap over a mile on turf at the Royal Ascot meeting in York in June. He is making his final start for trainer Paul Cole and after the race he will be transferred to O'Neill.