05/11/2008 11:00PM

Her horses rarely race at 2, but they last a long time

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Christine Janks grew up around horses, rode horses as a young woman, and when she moved from the world of show horses to the racetrack about 35 years ago, Janks did so with a firm knowledge of horses.

"I'd been around horses all my life, so I think my horsemanship was pretty good right away," Janks said.

Still, the passing of 3 1/2 decades has not seen Janks treading water. Far from it.

"At the time, when I first started, I thought I was doing okay, but I probably knew a hundredth of what I know now," she said.

The Janks operation has morphed into a pillar of Illinois racing, and Janks - swimming upstream in a male-dominated business - has proved herself a sharp horsewoman. Those who might doubt the fact are free to try their hand claiming a horse Janks drops in for a tag: The long-term results of such ventures are not often lucrative.

Janks won 40 races at a 16 percent strike rate in 2007, a solid figure, but a decline from her excellent 2006, during which Janks won at a 21-percent clip and had a powerhouse Arlington meet. In 2007, she won eight stakes races, down from 13 stakes wins the year before.

The 21 percent win rate is high considering that the Janks stable, which races almost exclusively in Chicago, is not built to churn out masses of victories. A great majority of the horses she trains, Janks bred herself, and owns either alone or in partnerships. She does not claim and drop, or try to get a hold of an animal for a quick win, at which point it becomes someone else's charge. Janks trains, breeds, and thinks in big-picture terms.

Janks said she did plenty of claiming during her first stint as a Chicago trainer, but after moving east for a time, she returned here in the early 1980s and began building the business that now exists. She bought Emerald Ridge Farm, and started acquiring mares. She now has 10, and they have thrown Illinois-bred stakes horses at a remarkable rate.

"I breed to mares that I think were sound racehorses, and stallions I think were sound," Janks said. "I really breed for soundness and longevity. I look for stallions that started at 2 and raced at least until they were 4."

It's no surprise, then, that Janks sends out a limited number of 2-year-olds - just eight in the most recent Daily Racing Form trainer stats sample.

"In order for a 2-year-old to run in my stable, it kind of has to drag me kicking and screaming into it," Janks said. "Any little setback, they go to the farm."

However, a young horse in the Janks system that doesn't race isn't waiting idly in a field.

"We train all the horses as 2-year-olds so they develop, but we just don't push them to race," said Janks.

Janks has a presence at Hawthorne meets both fall and spring, but Arlington is her bread and butter. Beginning in early autumn, her horses start finding their way to winter quarters at her Florida farm, and all the better stock spend a couple months living easy in the countryside. Janks legs them up in the Florida warmth before sending stock north in late winter and early spring. This year, she ran more horses than normal at the Hawthorne spring meet, but did not win at a high percentage.

Janks's layoff numbers are decent, if unspectacular: She wins more often and is more profitable with horses making their second start after a layoff. But most Janks-trained horses are at least capable of firing in their first race back.

"Actually, I rarely run a horse that I don't believe is fit enough to really run," she said. "Once in a while I'll run one that's a lazy horse, or there's a race this week, but not for three weeks. But pretty much, I train them until I think they're ready to run their best race."

Janks continued: "One thing I don't do is drill the hell out of babies and 3-year-old first-timers. I don't want them to have a bad experience, so they need to have a chance to run, but not get stressed to their limits."

Janks pays close attention to how a horse runs first time out. She may have a general idea of what a horse wants to do, but puts the particular animal on a career track based on what he actually shows out on the track.

"I try to learn from that what they really want to do," she said.

Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, the horse will find its niche and progress. Janks shows a 19-percent win rate, but a high $2.75 return on investment in allowance races, suggesting that in general her stock shows steady improvement. And once a horse hits his peak, the animal tends to stay there. Janks has under her care at the moment four 6-year-olds - Pretty Jenny, Modjadji, High Expectations, and Stop a Train - who have been regular stakes fixtures for three or four years. Mighty Rule just came into his own last year at 4.

"The one advantage I know the horses have is that they're on the same program their whole life," said Janks. "I don't think horses do well when they keep changing the program. I really know my horses - I watch them grow up, I pay a lot of attention to each individual."