06/04/2006 11:00PM

Janks runners are few but mighty

Benoit & Associates
High Expectations wins the Zen, giving trainer Christine Janks 4 stakes wins in 2 weeks.

CHICAGO - By late Sunday afternoon at Arlington, the thought felt authentic: This is Christine Janks's meet, and we're just visiting it.

It wasn't just that Janks had posted her 11th win, moving into a narrow lead over Tom Tomillo and Wayne Catalano in the trainer standings. Janks simply doesn't start enough horses over the course of a long meet like Arlington's to have a shot at being leading trainer. Or does she? What Janks already has accomplished here this season would have seemed less than possible before the meet began. When Janks sent High Expectations out to win the Zen Handicap on Sunday, it gave her four stakes wins in two weekends - five if not for Fifteen Rounds being disqualified from Janks's only win in an open stakes, the Grade 3 Hanshin. On Sunday, Chic Dancer won the Reluctant Guest; on Friday, Modjadji won the Your Ladyship; and a couple of weeks ago, Pretty Jenny, another Illinois-bred, won one of those overnight stakes races in which Janks has gone 5 for 5 so far this meet.

"I remember years when I never even ran in a stakes race all year," Janks said Monday. "I don't take it all for granted."

Janks had an excellent Arlington season last year, winning several races with many of these same horses, but she did not anticipate the kind of early-meet run she has had this year.

"Good horses with conditions, that's the key, and that's what I had last year, so I expected good things," Janks said. "This year I was out of conditions, so unless they can run at a superior level, which they've been doing, bless their little hearts, you can't do it all again. We've been exceptionally lucky, things have gone exceptionally well - you ride it as long as you can, but you don't expect it to keep happening."

Modjadji's win on Friday may have been especially gratifying, since Janks has long predicted good things for this filly, and while Modjadji had been a consistent horse with some obvious talent, Janks believed there was much more in the tank. And that came out in this recent race, where Modjadji simply outkicked the good sprinter Bluesbdancing, who had stood atop the Illinois-bred female sprint division.

"We've just been fiddling with the blinkers, trying different things, and I think we finally got it all figured out with her," Janks said. "You could always see that she could really run, but she just lacked the kind of focus that horses like Pretty Jenny have."

High Expectations also ran his best race of the year, winning Sunday by five lengths in beating a field that included Illinois-bred sprint kingpin Silver Bid.

"I think he had excuses the first couple races this year," said Janks. "He likes Arlington, he's been coming around, and we took a little more time to get him right this time. I had a lot of confidence in him."

Modjadji, High Expectations, and Pretty Jenny all are Illinois-breds, which means the six-stakes Prairie State Festival later this month may not slow Janks down at all.

Wednesday: Six-horse field a toughie

The Wednesday feature, a filly-and-mare third-level allowance with a $50,000 claiming option, drew a field of only six horses, and the one-mile dirt race is not especially strong for the class level. Even if true, however, that circumstance does not reduce the payoff for betting on a winner.

But finding a winner, even in such a short field, turns out to be no picnic, either. Those who grow weary of cogitating may settle on the likely favorite, Tuffted, who finished second of six in a race similar to the Wednesday feature when she last started, on May 19. With stablemate (but not entrymate) Woodland Sprite - who returns in Wednesday's race, too - dueling with favored Teller Line on a hot early pace, Tuffted got a nice stalking run and took the lead at the stretch call, but she was no match in the final 100 yards for late-running Defuhr. And the pace setup Wednesday might not be quite as favorable for Tuffted, who does much better with some speed in front of her.

But if you toss Tuffted, you're left with whom? Sara's Tune has not been the same horse in four starts this season that she was winning 2 of 10 in 2005. Meadow Skippin won well in her most recent start and was claimed for $50,000 out of the race, but she had an ideal setup that day and beat only 3-year-olds. Cheyenne Spirit comes off a win, but only over second-level Illinois-bred allowance horses, while Lucky Gambler won for a $25,000 claiming price last out, and may be in a bit deep.

The wheel has spun all the way around - we're back at Tuffted.