04/27/2004 11:00PM

Willie the Cat makes jockey's prediction reality


AUBURN, Wash. - After he won the opening-night allowance feature aboard Willie the Cat, jockey Ricky Frazier, who had just notched the 2,500th win of his career, predicted that his mount would soon be a stakes winner.

It wasn't the boldest of predictions since Willie the Cat had just blistered 5 1/2 furlongs in a track record 1:01.20, but it was certainly on target.

Only nine days later, Willie the Cat won last Sunday's six-furlong Seattle Handicap at Emerald Downs with another dazzling display of speed. Despite stumbling slightly at the start, Willie the Cat sprinted clear of four rivals with a quarter-mile in 21.60 and a half-mile in 44.20, then held steady through the stretch to win by nearly two lengths over longshot Best on Tap in 1:07.80. The clocking just missed Blue Tejano's 2002 track record of 1:07.60.

"He's about as fast away from the gate as any horse I've ever had, but he does tend to stumble at the start," trainer Tim McCanna said. "He is just so big and powerful that the ground can break out from under him. I was concerned after he drew the rail post for this one because he had some gate problems in California. He stumbled a bit, but he recovered so quickly that it didn't matter."

McCanna said he wasn't worried about running Willie the Cat back nine days after a huge performance.

"He came out of his last race so well that I decided right away to run him back in this one," the trainer said. "He got pretty tired this time, though, so I'm not sure when he will run again. I'll give him a week's vacation, then put him back into training and see how it goes. He'll tell me when he is ready to run again."

Willie the Cat, a gray son of Delineator who races for his breeder, Ron Crockett, improved his record at Emerald Downs to five wins in as many starts. He won three in a row when he began his career here as a 3-year-old in 2002, but was then sidelined for 18 months with an undetermined injury to his hind end. He showed little in two subsequent starts in California, but has regained his best form with a vengeance since returning to his favorite track this spring.

"The plan is to keep him here for the whole meeting," McCanna said. "That's my plan, anyway. I hope it's Ron's plan, too."

Mr. Makah, Do's Buckshot on rise

Willie the Cat's competition for his next start, which could come in the 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap on May 23, might emerge from a $32,000 optional claiming race run last Sunday.

Mr. Makah won that 5 1/2-furlong race in an upset, paying $36.40 after defeating Cody to Reggie by almost two lengths in 1:02. Trainer Bonnie Jenne has high hopes for Mr. Makah, who was making his 4-year-old debut.

"We never know with him, though," Jenne said. "If he shows up he is very tough. He has the potential to be a good horse."

Mr. Makah, who is by Majesterian and out of Evergreen Beauty, is a full-brother to Colony Lane, who won the $50,000 Washington Cup Classic for Jenne at last year's meeting.

Do's Buckshot went off as the 5-2 favorite in Sunday's race, but lost his best chance when he broke very slowly from the rail post. He closed smartly to finish third, beaten a little more than three lengths, and should improve a great deal off that effort.

Jockey race starts off tight

Gallyn Mitchell emerged from the first two weeks of the meeting with a short lead in what promises to be a hotly contested race for the jockey title. Mitchell had nine wins to eight for Ricky Frazier, with seven for Ben Russell and six for Scott Saito. Debbie Hoonan, returning to riding after a 12-year hiatus, rounded out the top five with four wins from 14 starts.

Mitchell, who won riding titles here in 1999 and 2000, is the track's leading stakes-winning jockey with 39. He became the first rider to notch 700 victories at Emerald Downs when he won aboard Best Game in Town in the first race on Sunday, April 18.

Fergason sets trainer record

Trainer Jim Fergason set a new mark for wins at Portland Meadows, which closed its 80-day 2003-04 meeting on Monday. Fergason won his third straight Portland Meadows training title with 50 wins, snapping the record of 48 established by his brother, Rolland Fergason, at the 1998-99 stand.

Juan Gutierrez won his second straight riding title, with 105 wins.

Monday's closing-day card was marred when jockey Flip Nollar suffered multiple injuries from a spill in the day's second race. Ironically, Nollar was scheduled to receive the track's Dan Castle Award, named for the only rider to be killed during a race at Portland Meadows, later in the day.

Nollar sustained a compound fracture in his left arm, three broken ribs, a cracked vertebrae and possible other injuries when his mount, Divino Blanco, fell near the seven-sixteenths ths pole.