05/23/2006 11:00PM

Hanshin lures big three plus reluctant two

Four Footed Fotos
Straight Line isn't in the Hanshin because of a nagging quarter crack.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There may have been a dicey moment or two, but Saturday's Hanshin Handicap, the first graded stakes race of the Arlington meet, will go off as planned. Racing fans will see that just five horses were entered Wednesday in the Hanshin, but it took plenty of work to get that many, and with one fewer horse, the Hanshin might have taken a one-year hiatus.

The field includes the trio expected all week to go in the race: favored Gouldings Green, plus Three Hour Nap and Semaphore Man. Fifteen Rounds and With Distinction were fence-sitters for the Hanshin, but both wound up being entered.

"I still haven't agreed to run," said Fifteen Rounds's trainer, Christine Janks. "I paid the money to enter, and we'll see what happens from there."

Arlington got little help with the Hanshin from Churchill Downs, though both tracks operate under the Churchill Downs Inc. banner. Churchill carded a high-end $68,000 allowance race for Friday that landed five entrants, three of whom were being considered for the Hanshin.

Fifteen Rounds's other current race option, the Aristides Stakes, is June 3 at Churchill, but Janks is leaning toward staying home at Arlington, even though it means running Fifteen Rounds at a mile, which seems farther than his best distance, rather than six furlongs.

"I hate shipping," Janks said. "Except for the rare horse, I just think you give up something when you ship. I don't like to do it, so things have to be really, really attractive to ship. The [Aristides] is a better distance, but a much tougher race."

The Aristides is expected to draw Eclipse champion Lost in the Fog.

Even with a short field, the Hanshin should have pace. Fifteen Rounds led all the way winning a one-mile Hanshin overnight stakes prep, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained With Distinction also is a front-runner, and Semaphore Man comes out of pure sprint races. That bodes well for Gouldings Green and Three Hour Nap, both of whom will be racing from behind.

Straight Line battling quarter crack

One local horse missing from the Hanshin is Straight Line, who nearly beat Fifteen Rounds earlier this month, and has been one of the best middle-distance horses in Chicago over the last couple seasons. Straight Line, trainer Brian Williamson said, was battling a quarter crack going into this most recent start, and the foot problem got worse rather than better after the race.

"He's galloping now, but he hasn't breezed since his last start," said Williamson. "He'll be back - just not Saturday."

Fort Prado ready to breeze

Fort Prado is on the road to recovery, while another talented Illinois-bred horse in the Chris Block barn, Creative Force, rebounded from a tough spring with a good-looking win here Saturday.

Fort Prado had to miss the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby card at Churchill when he came up with an abscessed hoof, but Fort Prado, 3 for 3 in an all-stakes 2006 campaign, has progressed from jogging to galloping, and is scheduled to have his first breeze since his injury this weekend.

"We're looking at it like the setback gives him a little breather," said Block, who added that Fort Prado doesn't yet have a specific comeback race on his agenda.

Creative Force, meanwhile, finally followed through on his victory last December in the Jim Edgar Futurity, which came in only his third career start. Since that race, Creative Force had been 10th in a Feb. 12 Gulfstream Park turf stakes, second as the favorite in a Hawthorne dirt allowance, then eighth in the Illinois Derby. But back on turf Saturday, he won an open second-level allowance race by 1 1/2 lengths, showing off the stretch punch of a promising grass horse.

"I didn't think it was an accurate account he gave of himself on turf down at Gulfstream." Block said. "He didn't have his mind in it."

Creative Force, Block said, will remain on turf and be pointed to the Arlington Classic - first leg of the Mid-American Triple - here July 1.

Hug Me Hug Me apt to show better

Hug Me Hug Me finished last in her first start of the season, but has a good chance to finish first in her second start.

Hug Me Hug Me was one of seven female grass horses entered in Friday's featured eighth race at Arlington, carded at about one mile for third-level allowance horses or $62,500 claimers. Hug Me Hug Me, from the barn of Brian Williamson, won a third-level, one-mile turf allowance by four lengths last fall at Hawthorne, and so runs Friday under the claiming option. And though she finished last by more than 11 lengths on April 23 at Hawthorne, Hug Me Hug Me might fit well in the Friday feature. Her first start of last season also produced a seventh-place finish, but Hug Me Hug Me quickly rebounded in her next start to finish second by a neck at this same class level. She has a bullet work since her last start, and should have ample early pace at which to run.

* Courthouse has been disqualified from a third-place finish in the April 22 National Jockey Club Handicap after testing positive for the illegal race-day medication naproxen.