08/05/2004 11:00PM

Willie the Cat shortens up

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AUBURN, Wash. - Willie the Cat will be back at his best game on Sunday, when he heads a cast of six in the $40,000 Governor's Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Willie the Cat, a brilliant sprinter, is coming off a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Budweiser Emerald Handicap at a mile on June 20.

"I had my doubts about whether he would go a mile because he is such a big, heavy horse, but we felt we had to find out for sure," said trainer Tim McCanna. "Now we know, so we'll keep him sprinting at least through this meeting."

McCanna said Willie the Cat was turned out at Dunbar Ranch after the Budweiser Emerald.

"He needed a little rest, and it seemed to do him a lot of good," said McCanna. "He has been sharp since he came back. He has worked three times, including a six-furlong work in 1:10.60 on Tuesday, so I'm happy with his condition. He's ready."

Willie the Cat, a 5-year-old son of Delineator who races for Ron Crockett Inc., has won all three of his career outings at 6 1/2 furlongs. He sported a pattern of declining Beyer Speed Figures even before his mile try, however. He earned a Beyer Figure of 104 winning a 5 1/2-furlong allowance in his first start at the meeting, a Beyer of 98 winning the six-furlong Seattle Handicap just nine days later, and a 92 winning the 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap on May 23.

"I think it took a lot out of him to run back in nine days," said McCanna. "He was due for a freshening, and I'm glad we had a chance to give him one after his last race. My hope is that he'll be able to run back to his best race now that he has had a break."

Willie the Cat, who will tote high weight of 120 pounds with rider Ricky Frazier up, will race coupled in the wagering with Cody to Reggie, also owned by Ron Crockett Inc. Cody to Reggie, trained by Grant Forster, is coming off a good second to Salt Grinder in a six-furlong allowance race on July 25.

Salt Grinder, who will also go in the Governor's, won that race by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:08.20 in his first start as a 5-year-old. Trained by Jim Penney, Salt Grinder ran second in last year's Governor's.