06/08/2004 11:00PM

No Kentucky trip for Mystery Giver


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It was about a month ago that Chris Block plotted a summer schedule for his stable star, Mystery Giver, but his plans crumbled Tuesday night. Mystery Giver, who was to have shipped to Churchill Downs early Wednesday morning, was found to have a swollen right hind ankle, and though the injury does not now appear to be serious, it will keep Mystery Giver out of Saturday's Opening Verse Handicap.

"The plan was to leave for Kentucky at 4 this morning," Block said Wednesday afternoon, "but his ankle was inflamed last night. He was sound on it, but we really didn't know what to think. It could have been any one of four different things, and they all were serious."

But an ultrasound scan performed Wednesday morning on Mystery Giver did not reveal any damage.

"There was no sign of any soft-tissue damage," Block said. "There was nothing with the suspensory [ligament], and that was our main concern."

Mystery Giver had an easy jog Wednesday morning, as Block sought to confirm his soundness, and the swollen ankle did not appear to trouble him.

"My gut feeling is that he kicked the wall of his stall, and it was a reaction to that," Block said. "You can't take any chances, though. It was a pretty easy decision not to ship him."

Block said Mystery Giver would be monitored "the next four or five days, until I'm certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's not serious."

Then, Block will begin to plan again.

Coach Jimi Lee seeks first win of season

Weekday racing so far this Arlington meet generally has lacked luster, but Friday's featured eighth race is a stakes-level allowance.

Carded at 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt, the feature drew Coach Jimi Lee and Fifteen Rounds, two of the fastest horses stabled here. Sea of Tranquility, Silver Zipper, and Salty Genius are worthy opponents; Play It Out seems overmatched.

Coach Jimi Lee comes off a mediocre effort in the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup here May 29. Fifteen Rounds comes off a non-effort in an April 24 allowance race at Hawthorne. Favored in his first start of the year, Fifteen Rounds failed to show even his customary early speed and finished ninth, beaten more than 16 lengths.

"There's nowhere to go but up," said trainer Christine Janks.

Fifteen Rounds began his career last April, winning his first four starts, though he lost to Coach Jimi Lee in the Forward Pass here last August. It was going to be interesting to see how Fifteen Rounds had developed from his 3-year-old to 4-year-old season, but his comeback race gave nothing away.

"Obviously, he didn't run to expectations," Janks said. "He's been training very well, and I think he'll run that way - and hopefully I won't be wrong this time."

The question is whether Fifteen Rounds at his best is good enough to beat Coach Jimi Lee, who last winter at Hawthorne ran the fastest six furlongs ever recorded in Illinois. Coach Jimi Lee ran well in defeat twice this winter at Gulfstream, but suffered a surprising defeat May 1 in a minor stakes race at Prairie Meadows. Then he finished fourth, beaten 5 1/2 lengths, two weeks ago in the Hanshin. On paper, the Hanshin was filled with pace, but all the speed horses - including Coach Jimi Lee - were taken back.

"For him to run 23 and change for the first quarter - he's never run that slow in his life," said trainer Jimmy DiVito.

Coach Jimi Lee won 5 of 11 last year, and will be favored to win another Friday, but so far this season he is 0-4.

"I'd like to get this horse back on track and win a race with him," DiVito said.

Beret back in Estrapade after tense incident

Beret was about two strides into her 2004 debut this spring at Hawthorne when she stumbled, grabbing the back of her front ankle with her hind leg and throwing jockey Chris Emigh to the turf. Beret ran politely around the turf course, and once she got back around to the front side of the track, she began looking for a way home. Brian Williamson, the assistant to trainer Harvey Vanier, was watching, thinking, and worrying.

Seven years before, the Vaniers had a horse named Southern Playgirl. Now, Beret is a nice horse, but Southern Playgirl really could run. As a 2-year-old, she won the Grade 2 Alcibiades Stakes, and at the old Sportsman's Park, on April 27, 1997, she was one of the favorites to win the National Jockey Club Oaks.

But Southern Playgirl, like Beret, stumbled and lost her rider. The filly panicked, bursting through the inner rail and eventually coming to rest in a ditch out on the infield. In the middle of the night, Southern Playgirl died from internal bleeding.

"That's what I was thinking about," Williamson said, recalling his frame of mind as Beret ran loose. "She kind of spooked, but the outrider took it real easy. He got off his horse and did the right thing."

Beret was caught, and mostly safe, but she had opened a long gash below her ankle.

"It was right below the tendon, but we got lucky," said Williamson.

Beret was restricted to light exercise while her wound healed, but she put in a seven-furlong breeze here and is set to start Saturday in the $75,000 Estrapade Stakes. The Estrapade, a 1 1/16-mile turf race, was drawn on Wednesday, attracting a good field of 11. One of the horses, Sunset Kisses, was cross-entered in a Saturday allowance race.