10/06/2006 11:00PM

Feature full of top sprinters


STICKNEY, Ill. - The connections of Smoke Smoke Smoke were in the market for a comeback race, and Christine Janks, the trainer of Fifteen Rounds, probably was more keen on keeping her horse in Chicago than shipping him to Keeneland for the Phoenix Stakes, given the last 10-week period of his career. Not only did these two crack sprinters land in the featured eighth on Monday at Hawthorne, but so did Alabama Clay and High Expectations, two more near the top of the local one-turn division.

And there are still others in the Monday feature, carded at six furlongs for $100,000 claimers (there's one of them) or "money-since" allowance horses (seven of those): Iron Rogue is a five-time Hawthorne winner who got very good here early in the spring, and Hold the Salt, a winner in 4 of his 7 career starts, makes his first start since April and first since moving into the barn of Chris Richard.

But the race passes squarely through Fifteen Rounds, 2 for 6 this year, but 5 for 8 last season and 14 for 27 in a career that's netted his owners more than $425,000 in purses. Fifteen Rounds' best moment this season also was his toughest, a disqualification from his first-place finish in the Grade 3 Hanshin on May 27 at Arlington. Foot issues kept him out of the Arlington Sprint, and Fifteen Rounds hasn't started anywhere since July 15, when he was upset at Arlington in a high-end allowance race by return rival Alabama Clay. Both horses have run well at Hawthorne, too: Fifteen Rounds has won 4 of 6 here, Alabama Clay 4 of 5.

Smoke Smoke Smoke, on the other hand, is 1 for 1, with a sharp win in the 2005 Lost Code Breeders' Cup. But after a few more starts, and continued progress, Smoke Smoke Smoke suffered a physical setback later in the summer, and Monday's race will mark his first start in 15 months. Trainer Mac Robertson hasn't asked Smoke Smoke Smoke to work fast, but speed's not an issue with this horse. Smoke Smoke Smoke has breezed without interruption, and ran well in a comeback race early in 2005.

The pace picture here is a bit murky: Jimmy's Boy, who never has beaten horses of this class, is a pure front-end type drawn on the outside. Alabama Clay, Fifteen Rounds, and Hold the Salt also will show some degree of gate speed. The faster the fractions, the better High Expectations's chances. When he won the six-furlong White Oak at Arlington, High Expectations raced from some 20 lengths behind coming into the far turn.