05/25/2006 12:00AM

'Gouldings' liable to pounce

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Had he run a half-length faster last May 28, Gouldings Green would be coming to Chicago this weekend to defend his title in the Hanshin Handicap. But the horse that finished second to Lord of the Game in the 2005 Hanshin is still the horse to beat in Saturday's edition of the Grade 3, $100,000 race.

has made only 11 career starts five months into his 5-year-old season, but he has won five times, finishing third or better in eight of his starts. Trained by Tony Reinstedler, Gouldings Green exits a game victory over Wild Desert on May 5 in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill, Reinstedler's base. But to make any money in the five-horse Hanshin, one might have to play against Gouldings Green, who figures to be heavily bet.

While short on horses, the one-mile Hanshin is long on speed. It starts in post 1, where on the outside. Fifteen Rounds won his only start at a mile, scoring by a half-length in a May 6 overnight stakes prep for the Hanshin. More sprinter than miler, once speed-crazy Fifteen Rounds has learned to settle, but was on edge in a bullet five-furlong work Sunday.

"It was fast - he always works fast - but it wasn't as relaxed," said trainer Christine Janks. "In fact, it wasn't relaxed at all."

Janks isn't giving out her Hanshin strategy - "I think the best thing is to be in front at the wire," she said - but it's hard to imagine Fifteen Rounds not going to the lead from the rail. With Distinction, second last out in the Churchill Downs Handicap and a Grade 3 winner early this year, should go right with him, and if Semaphore Man shows his usual speed, that makes three going fast to the half-mile pole.

Gouldings Green might well be the one to benefit, but so could Three Hour Nap, who won the 2004 Arlington-Washington Futurity at this distance, and has lost only once in five Arlington races. Three Hour Nap won the nine-furlong National Jockey Club Handicap in his most recent start, and might at this point want to run farther than he will Saturday, but with the right race setup, Three Hour Nap might give Gouldings Green all he wants.

"I don't prefer to run a mile," said trainer Hugh Robertson, "but he won twice at it. I don't think he's at his best at it, but there's some speed in there."