03/06/2009 1:00AM

Willist steps out into open ranks


NEW ORLEANS - With a bankroll of more than $350,000, Willist would appear to be one of the classiest entrants in Sunday's feature race, the ninth, a third-level allowance with a $62,500 claiming option at about 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

Upon closer examination, however, Willist's credentials look more suspect, with all but one of his wins coming against Louisiana-breds.

But with his horse ready to run, and no suitable Louisiana-bred races, trainer Sturges Ducoing decided to test the waters.

"There wasn't anything for him in Louisiana-breds until the end of the meet, so we thought we would take a shot, and the worst it would be is a prep for his race on the last weekend," said Ducoing, referring to a March 25 Louisiana-bred allowance race. "We got lucky and won the last time we raced in open company."

Willist will meet one of his regular rivals from the Louisiana-bred ranks, Wildrally, whose trainer has entered him here both because Wildrally needs a race and to test him in open company.

"We are running him here for lack of a better spot," said trainer Tom Amoss. "How he runs will probably have a lot to do with our decision of whether we take him up north with us to Kentucky."

Wildrally has faced open company four times since winning his maiden in May 2007, winning once and finishing third once. His latest attempt at open company came on Dec. 5, off a layoff, when he finished seventh going a mile over the Fair Grounds turf.

The two Louisiana-bred horses run into an ongoing three-way fight among horses who have been racing at this condition level - General Charley, Master Mizzen, and Unpaid Crusade.

In their last meeting, on Jan. 25 here, Unpaid Crusade made his run around the turn, then didn't have enough left, finishing second, a length before Master Mizzen. It was another four lengths back to General Charley in seventh.

That race was a step backward for General Charley, who ran third at this condition two races ago, and was beginning again to look like the horse who has earned more than $380,000 and won the Tin Man at Arlington and the Texas Hall of Fame at Retama.

Master Mizzen has been very consistent, finishing in the money in 13 of his 19 starts, though managing only three wins.

Unpaid Crusade, like General Charley, is entered for the $62,500 claiming price. Unpaid Crusade figures strongly if he takes a step forward off the Jan. 25 race.