03/23/2006 1:00AM

'Nkosi' gets year started


CHICAGO - One spot fits the needs of two high-class Christine Janks-trained horses ready to make their first start of 2006, and choosing between Nkosi Reigns and High Expectations in Saturday's fourth race at the National Jockey Club looked difficult for handicappers. Turns out, it's simple.

"It's Nkosi Reigns," Janks said Wednesday afternoon. "The choice is real easy, because the other horse came up sick today. I'll take the one without the fever anytime."

High Expectations, who will be a veterinarian's scratch from the race, turned into one of the best Illinois-bred 3-year-olds of 2005, his season capped by an impressive win in the Springfield Stakes. But while High Expectations might have to go straight into the April 29 Milwaukee Avenue Handicap, Janks said, the Saturday feature looks like a solid launching pad for Nkosi Reigns's season. Now 5, Nkosi Reigns won twice last season, including a victory in an overnight stakes race at Arlington, and he finished third, beaten less than a length by Lord of the Game, in the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap.

A long, narrow-bodied horse, Nkosi Reigns "still looks like I don't give him much to eat," Janks said, but actually weighs more now than he did at any time last season, according to Janks. In fact, Nkosi Reigns and High Expectations winter together in Florida, turned out together in a paddock, and Nkosi Reigns has grown quite fond of High Expectations. Barry Janks, Christine's husband, proposed stabling the two side-by-side this spring at Hawthorne, and apparently the change has settled the normally nervous Nkosi Reigns.

"He's not doing all that stall walking and swaying side to side," Janks said.

A happy Nkosi Reigns should be tough to beat. He won his first start of the 2005 season here by four lengths and has won three of four starts over the Hawthorne surface. Nkosi Reigns concluded his 2005 season in a pair of Grade 3 stakes and would appear to hold a class edge over his five rivals.

No Tolerance, however, could be a dangerous front-runner, depending upon how much early pressure is applied by Big Glori, if he even starts. Big Glori is part of a coupled entry from the barn of Jim McCoy, and if he should be scratched, No Tolerance, who has never been beaten in three Hawthorne starts, could wind up loose on the early lead. With that kind of trip, even Nkosi Reigns might find him difficult to reel in. Also worthy of consideration are Air Academy, a sharp third-level allowance winner here March 4, and Ole Faunty, at one point a Grade 3-caliber handicap horse.