05/21/2004 12:00AM

Willie the Cat: All out from the get-go

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AUBURN, Wash. - Trainer Tim McCanna had about five hours for quiet contemplation on Thursday morning as he was returning to Emerald Downs from his home in Spokane, Wash., but he didn't spend an instant plotting strategy for Willie the Cat in Sunday's Fox Sports Net Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.

"It wouldn't matter if I did, because he's gonna go," said the trainer. "Whether there is other speed or there isn't, he's still gonna go."

The tactic has proven flawless through five starts at Emerald Downs, as Willie the Cat has never been behind a horse on this track.

"I actually think he would rate behind a horse if somebody could beat him to the lead, but so far nobody has been able to do that," said McCanna.

Willie the Cat, a 5-year-old son of Delineator and Cozy Angie, is so fast that McCanna has been more concerned with taking some of his speed away than with sharpening it.

"You don't want him to go too fast, and you don't want your rider to have to fight him to slow him down," said the trainer. "The way I've tried to restrain his speed is through his training. If I blew him out three furlongs in 34 flat two days before a race, he'd be awfully hard to control, but when I work him a strong five furlongs five days out, that's just about right."

Willie the Cat worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 on Tuesday.

"He's coming up to the race pretty good," said McCanna. "My only real concern is that he has had some problems in the gate in the past. He's not stupid in the gate, but he wants to get out of there and start running. He's so big and strong that sometimes the ground breaks out from under him, but there's not a lot I can do about that."

Once Willie the Cat exits the gate cleanly and goes to the front, his trainer will have no worries.

"I know he'll give it his best shot," said McCanna. "He's a real racehorse."

No place to hide for Bub

Since Willie the Cat set a world record for 5 1/2 furlongs in his first start at the meeting and came back nine days later to win the Seattle Handicap in 1:07.80 for six furlongs, you wouldn't think horses would be lining up to run against him on Sunday. They are, though. Of the 11 horses nominated for the Fox Sports Net, 10 will run.

Not all of the trainers of those horses relish the prospect of knocking heads with Willie the Cat, though.

"I'd rather run Bub in some easy allowance race, but there isn't one," said Bud Klokstad. "He needs a race, and this is all there is. If I don't run him in this one, he won't be ready for the next stakes."

Bub, a 4-year-old son of Slewdledo, was this track's champion juvenile in 2002, when he won three stakes and placed in two others. He missed almost all of last year with a serious illness, but he came back to run a good second to longtime rival Knightsbridge Road in a six-furlong allowance race here on May 7.

"I was real pleased with the way he ran, because I knew he was going to be a little short," said Klokstad. "He didn't get to the track until mid-February, and I had to rush him a little to get him up to the allowance race, but he made a nice run before he got tired. He'll be a lot fitter for this race. I doubt that he'll be at his peak, but he's going to run regardless."

Klokstad, Emerald Downs's leading stakes trainer with 37 added-money wins, suffered a blow recently when his best 3-year-old, Corvallis Dee, chipped a knee in the May 2 Auburn Stakes and had to undergo surgery. He will be out of action for the entire meeting.

The trainer's best horse, Flying Notes, has returned to galloping after injuring a tendon last August and should make an appearance at the stand.

Claim working out well

The new shooter in Sunday's lineup is Demon Warlock, a winner of 4 of his last 5 races in California. Trainer Terry Gillihan claimed Demon Warlock, a 4-year-old son of Demons Begone, out of a winning effort at the $25,000 level in March for owners Tim and Allen Floyd and Mike Nist. He has since won twice for a $32,000 claiming price.

"It was the owners' idea to claim, and it was a good idea," said Gillihan. "I've been impressed with him. He has speed but he is versatile, and he tries hard every time. This race on Sunday will be a test for him, but he has run some nice races against some nice horses in California. I don't really think he'll be overmatched."

Purses get boost

Emerald Downs will increase its overnight purses by 5 percent with the condition book beginning June 3, and the increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the meeting.

The purse increase was made possible by an increase in ontrack handle and the anticipated effects of legislation passed last month. The new law would permit account wagering in Washington, allow full card simulcast wagering at satellite sites, and remove restrictions on the number of days per week and hours per day that wagering can be conducted.