03/11/2006 12:00AM

Fifteen Rounds returns in style


CHICAGO - Fifteen Rounds, Chicago's best sprinter, was pretty much flawless in his 2006 debut on Friday. Not only did he win by almost two lengths in a high-end allowance, clocking a fast time while under a hand ride from jockey Chris Emigh, but Fifteen Rounds, as he did the second half of last year, continued to display increased maturity and professionalism.

Fifteen Rounds once was a little speed-crazy, an in-race demeanor that mirrored his offtrack personality. Fifteen Rounds could get anxious and wound up, and trainer Christine Janks said he used to ship poorly. But Friday, Janks said he was cool and collected in the paddock before the six-furlong race, and he relaxed into an easy stride for Emigh behind a fast early pace. When the rail opened at the top of the stretch - poof, Fifteen Rounds was gone.

"He relaxed and handled himself really well yesterday," said Janks, who herself has yet to come north after wintering in Florida, "and that hasn't been the case in the past. It's taken him a couple races for him to get his rhythm, but not this time."

Fifteen Rounds won the Arlington Sprint Handicap last summer, and is one of the better sprinters in all the Midwest, and since there are no obviously suitable races for him here at the National Jockey Club meet, a road trip seems likely. But to where and for what race is up in the air, said Janks.

"I seriously haven't thought about it at all," she said. "I'm going to have to look around for something."

Meanwhile, the 8-year-old Illinois-bred Silver Bid ran well in defeat, setting the pace to midstretch (a somewhat blistering 44.20-second half-mile) and gamely holding second.

"We went in second-best, and we came out second-best," said trainer Joel Berndt.

And being second-best to Fifteen Rounds isn't so bad, especially when there are

statebred-restricted races on the horizon. Silver Bid seemed to have slowed during the second half of 2005, but showed Friday that his speed, his chief asset, remains.

"I was very happy," Berndt said. "You often wonder when you start a new year if it's still there, but I wasn't that surprised."

- A pair of 3-year-old allowance races - one for Illinois-breds, one for open horses - highlight the Monday card, but short fields plagued the nine-race card, and the features were not exempt. Both drew only six entries, with Atta Boy Brian looking like the horse to beat in race 4, and Gallows the likely favorite in the sixth, the open race.