12/28/2006 1:00AM

Peace and Joy's year nothing but 1-2 finishes


CHICAGO - Sure, there's a decent third-level sprint allowance for fillies and mares occupying the standard feature-race position on Hawthorne's Saturday card. But one of the best horses in the country runs in the opening race at Hawthorne.

No, it is not Bernardini suddenly come out of retirement and onto the southwest side of Chicago. Invasor left Florida this week for New York, not Hawthorne. In fact, you probably have not heard of the 7-year-old gelding Peace and Joy, who has yet to strike the $80,000 mark in 2006 earnings, but who has put together a memorable season nonetheless.

With 10 wins in Canada, Cold War is tied with Peace and Joy for second in all of North America in terms of victories in 2006 behind only Stringtown Wonder, whose 12o3/4-length victory Dec. 9 at Philadelphia Park gave him eight in a row and 12 for the year. But on May 2, Stringtown Wonder finished worse than second, and that has not happened to all year to Peace and Joy, who has started in 15 races, won 10, and finished second five other times.

Peace and Joy is the consummate starter-allowance horse, and he races Saturday at the same class level he's been at for 12 races in a row - $5,000 starter allowance.

He's one of six entered in race 1, and may not even be favored, with leading rider Chris Emigh aboard an in-form contender named Gravano, and Peace and Joy perhaps better suited to sprints than the 1 1/16 miles he'll be asked to run Saturday.

Not that much of anything gets between Peace and Joy and the winner's circle. Peace and Joy's career began in the summer of 2002 at Rockingham Park, and he was first claimed the next spring at Gulfstream.

Wins came occasionally, but Peace and Joy's general trajectory was downward. He hit bottom in June 2005, when he raced for a $5,000 tag and lost by a nose in the Ellis Park mud. The trainer Ralph Martinez got hold of Peace and Joy the next month, lost him that December at Hawthorne, and quickly took Peace and Joy back in his next start. No more claiming tags for this old boy, who has an uncanny nose for the wire.

Peace and Joy has won at five different tracks, on turf and on dirt, and at distances from five furlongs to a mile this year. He might not be the highest-class horse in the country, but he has been one of racing's bravest warriors this year.

* Jockey Israel Ocampo, third in the Hawthorne standings, dropped an appeal of an earlier ruling against him and will serve a suspension the final three days of the Hawthorne meet.