05/21/2004 12:00AM

'Willie' looks tough to top in sprint

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AUBURN, Wash. - Willie the Cat will rule a strong favorite when he takes on nine challengers in Sunday's 6 1/2-furlong Fox Sports Net Handicap at Emerald Downs.

Although he lost twice in California, Willie the Cat is undefeated in five tries for trainer Tim McCanna at Emerald Downs. Willie the Cat, who will carry high weight of 119 pounds, is coming off a pair of spectacular efforts at this meeting. He blitzed allowance company by nearly eight lengths with 5 1/2 furlongs in a world-record 1:01.20 on April 16, then came back nine days later to win the six-furlong Seattle Handicap by nearly two lengths in 1:07.80, just a fifth of a second off the track record.

It is difficult to take a stand against Willie the Cat, but those who made Zona de Impacto a strong second choice in the Seattle Handicap might be inclined to give him another chance. Zona de Impacto, a Chilean import who won five of his last six races in his native land, was an unthreatening fourth in the Seattle, but trainer Sharon Ross said he was not himself.

"He was way too nervous," she said. "He freaked out in the paddock and left his race right there. We've schooled him a lot since then."

'Willie' ties record after all

As was originally announced, Willie the Cat's 1:01.20 clocking for 5 1/2 furlongs on April 16 equaled the world record. Subsequently discovered references to another horse, Plenty Zloty, having run the distance in 1:01.10 at Turf Paradise were the result of a mistake in converting fifths to hundredths of a second. Plenty Zloty's clocking was in fact 1:01.20.