06/12/2005 11:00PM

Nkosi Reigns a question mark on grass


CHICAGO - There's no magic potion, no numerology, not even a direct line tracing from acquired knowledge to the winner's circle.

"It's really all about having the right horses," trainer Christine Janks said Monday morning.

So far at Arlington, Janks has mostly had the right ones. Not only had she won 9 races from 32 starters as of Sunday - placing her in a tie for second in the trainer standings - Janks had sent 21 of the 32 out to finish third or better. There has been the standout Illinois-bred 3-year-old filly Pretty Jenny, a rising Illinois-bred 3-year-old colt named High Expectations, and Nkosi Reigns, a 4-year-old gelding who nearly won the Grade 3 Hanshin Handicap here May 28.

Wednesday, in Arlington's featured eighth race, Nkosi Reigns drops out of stakes company and into a fourth-level allowance with an $80,000 claiming option. No question, Nkosi Reigns is as talented as any of his six rivals in the race, but his strong recent performances have come on dirt, and the Wednesday feature is at one mile on grass.

Still, Janks hasn't entered hoping for a rain-off.

"No, I'm running him on the turf," said Janks. "Actually, I think he is as good on grass until proven that he isn't."

Nkosi Reigns has made only eight starts, winning half of them. His first two outs came on grass - both losses - but that was almost a year ago.

"When he ran on it before, he was still a little inexperienced," Janks said. "He's been a very slow horse to come around. He's kind of unsure of himself until he's done something a couple times. Let's just say that he was green for a long time."

Nkosi Reigns won his 2005 debut, a third-level Hawthorne allowance, by four lengths, and finished third, beaten less than a length, when cutting back from two turns to a one-turn mile in the Hanshin.

"He ran fantastic, and I think on another day he can beat those horses," Janks said. "It's strange to say, but he's still learning."

At age 9, Ivan Jay Perry probably learned all he needed to know about racing four years ago, but he is still going strong, and won his first start of the season here May 27, earning a class upgrade into Wednesday's feature. He, Proud and Bold, and Third Half have the best chance at a win should Nkosi Reigns prove to be inferior runner on grass.

Miss Matched's next start uncertain

Miss Matched and Culinary are Arlington-based 3-year-old fillies, but they ran one-two last weekend in the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill, with Miss Matched, off an overnight sprint stakes win here, coming out a clear winner.

Miss Matched was 7-1 in the Dogwood, but trainer John Ward said he believed she was a serious contender.

"Well, I thought she belonged in the spot," Ward said. "Her best Beyer was when she went around two turns last year, and she chipped her knee in the race."

The injury occurred last October, and Miss Matched has won all three of his starts since coming back this season. Winning the Dogwood gave Ward options, but he already has 3-year-old fillies to take to the Saratoga meet, and Miss Matched, who has returned to Arlington, could stay around the Midwest.

"She came out of the race tired, just the fact it was the first time around two turns [this year]," Ward said. "Where we go next, I haven't researched it. I'm going to try to put them where they really belong."

Ex-jockey wins first start as trainer

Shannon Ritter had to endure the usual joke: Why not just retire undefeated?

This is the line that comes up when a trainer wins the first race of her career, as Ritter did last Saturday at Arlington with a gelding named Let Em Go. Let Em Go made quite certain Ritter would win her career debut. He scored by five lengths at 8-1 in a $20,000 maiden claimer.

It was also a good thing that nobody claimed Let Em Go, since Ritter has no surplus stock. She went out on her own in May after spending eight years as a major assistant to trainer Elliott Walden. Before landing in that position, Ritter had been a jockey for eight years.

There is independence now, and Walden has helped out, but Ritter has only five horses. She exercise rides all of them herself each morning, but has sprung for one groom and one hotwalker.

"I'm liking it right now," she said. "It's pretty fun."

Lord of the Game straight to Claiming Crown?

Lord of the Game, the rags to riches Hanshin winner, was scratched from a $10,000 starter allowance race here Friday. Trainer Tom Tomillo said he had entered the race planning to run only of rain forced it onto the main track.

Lord of the Game is intended for the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park, and might start there without a prep race beforehand.

"I might just work him to the Claiming Crown," Tomillo said. "They have a starter race up there a couple weeks before. I might go and run him up there and just stay."