01/20/2010 12:00AM

Win Willy continues comeback

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Win Willy, upset winner of the Grade 2 Rebel last meet at Oaklawn Park, is back in Hot Springs, but with a new look. Win Willy is adding blinkers on Thursday for the eighth race, a $65,000 optional claiming race with third-level allowance conditions. The one-mile race has drawn seven older horses, each of whom last raced in a different jurisdiction.

Win Willy was last in action in October at Hoosier Park, where he closed from last of nine to finish fifth as the favorite in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby. He has since been working forwardly for his return to Oaklawn.

"He's been wanting to get himself a long ways back, so I put blinkers on him just hoping that maybe he places himself a little closer where he doesn't have to have a fast pace to run a winning race," said Mac Robertson, who trains Win Willy for Jer-Mar Stables.

The Indiana Derby has turned out to be a key race, with the fourth-place finisher, Weslinn, and the sixth-place finisher, Fundy, both returning to win allowances in their next starts. But perhaps even more telling of the race's strength was the fact that Indiana Derby winner Misremembered came back in his next start to finish second by a neck in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Cliff Berry will be reunited with Win Willy on Thursday. He was aboard the horse in last year's Rebel, when Win Willy closed from 16 lengths back to catch early Kentucky Derby favorite Old Fashioned at 56-1. Win Willy went on to finish fourth in the Arkansas Derby before being sidelined with an ankle injury that required 90 days of rest.

The allowance Thursday will be the third start since his injury and could be his springboard back into the stakes ranks.

"I'd like to run him three times here this meet," Robertson said. "I'd like to run him here and then pick a stakes, then run the last weekend. There's lots of opportunities."

Doc's Friend could go favored Thursday for his runner-up finish in a first-level allowance at Churchill. Leading rider Terry Thompson has the call from trainer Cindy Jones.