03/07/2007 1:00AM

Pair of quality veterans back on the scene


CHICAGO - Among the conditioned claimers, the maiden claimers, and the heartened veteran claimers training at Hawthorne on Wednesday morning, two stakes veterans on the Chicago circuit were spotted.

Both Fifteen Rounds and High Expectations turned in timed workouts, their first of the season since shipping from winter quarters in Florida. Unsurprisingly, both horses were the fastest of the morning at their respective distances; Fifteen Rounds zipped five furlongs in 59.60 seconds, while High Expectations went six furlongs in 1:16.80, three seconds faster than the only other six-furlong work. Both are expected to race March 17 in the $45,000 Hula Chief at Hawthorne, trainer Christine Janks said.

Fifteen Rounds finished fifth in his 2006 finale, a high-end Hawthorne allowance race on Oct. 9 that High Expectations won. But both horses have excelled. Fifteen Rounds has won 14 of 28 career starts, while High Expectations is 7 for 21, finishing third or better 17 times. Both have gone through Janks's normal winter routine, getting two months away from training at her farm before beginning to gear up for another campaign.

But this winter things were slightly different. High Expectations and Fifteen Rounds, both geldings and good buddies, were turned out together in their usual spot, but their old running mate Nkosi Reigns was gone. Nkosi Reigns won a stakes race in Florida after leaving Chicago last fall, and the victory brought forth a private purchase offer "that was a very fair price," according to Janks. So while High Expectations and Fifteen Rounds roamed their Florida digs, Nkosi Reigns was off to a second career as a racehorse in Dubai.

As for the Janks barn as a whole, 20 horses have made their way to Chicago, and 20 more - not counting 2-year-olds - remain in Florida.

Kirby barn ready to go

Frank Kirby keeps horses at Hawthorne during the winter racing break, and he operates a private training center that includes an indoor training arena. Kirby generally has as many horses ready to run once the local winter-spring meet begins as any Chicago horsemen.

This year is no exception. Through last week's racing, Kirby had started the second-greatest number of horses at the meet - 18 - and was tied with two others - Richard Hazelton and Wayne Catalano - atop the trainer standings with four winners. Friday, Kirby sends out starters in five of Hawthorne's nine races, including certain favorite Flashy Lady in the featured third, a second-level allowance at six furlongs.

Flashy Lady began her career with Kirby last summer, wound up with trainer Bob Holthus for four starts, but returned from Kentucky to Kirby's Hawthorne string in the fall, winning a Dec. 15 entry-level allowance race by more than three lengths. At 1-2, Flashy Lady was never asked to run by jockey Chris Emigh, and she may be a similarly short price in a six-horse field Friday.

Those seeking an upset candidate could do worse than Erie Canal, who won at Hawthorne in her 2006 finale.