04/14/2005 12:00AM

Fifteen Rounds, Manitowish rematched


The calendar changes, but sometimes the horses remain the same. Last April 25 in a high-class optional-claiming race at Hawthorne, trainer Christine Janks sent out the two fastest horses in her barn, Fifteen Rounds and Manitowish. Fifteen Rounds last ran in a Grade 3 stakes, and was assumed to be the superior horse, but he started slowly and ran progressively worse that day, finishing ninth. As Fifteen Rounds faded, Manitowish crept up the rail and won by a neck. His win price would have been boxcars, had the pair not been coupled for wagering purposes.

Fifteen Rounds and Manitowish both make their 2005 debut in the featured fourth race Saturday at Hawthorne, a six-furlong sprint for top-level allowance horses or $100,000 claimers, but this time, those that might prefer Manitowish - the less flashy of the two - will get their price, since the horses race as separate betting interests. Also in the race is Stratematic, who has run against the Janks-trained pair before, and a worthy Kentucky invader, Premium Saltine, who makes his first start since being transferred to trainer Tom Amoss.

Fifteen Rounds's flop a year ago was a precursor of a difficult period. After another layoff, Fifteen Rounds returned in mid-summer with a pair of fourth-place finishes at Arlington, and when he showed up Aug. 20 after another break of several weeks, Fifteen Rounds was running for a $50,000 claiming price. He won easily, there were no takers for the sale price, and quite suddenly, the horse was back on form. At Hawthorne, he won a race over Manitowish, then beat the classy sprinter Silver Zipper, and though his season ended with a troubled sixth-place finish at Churchill Downs, Fifteen Rounds enters Saturday's race in the same position he occupied last year - the horse to beat.

There is a chance Manitowish could surprise again. A stalk-and-pounce type as opposed to Fifteen Rounds, a relentless front-runner, Manitowish shows a workout line at least as good-looking as his stable-mate's.

And no horse in the race has worked faster recently than Premium Saltine, who was quickest at the distance the last three times he breezed, once at Fair Grounds and twice at Churchill, Amoss's current base. Premium Saltine has the outside draw, and the strategy employed by jockey Jesse Campbell - how much pace pressure to put on Fifteen Rounds? - will help determine the shape of the race.