03/14/2007 11:00PM

Straight Line a stranger here


CHICAGO - There are an infinite number of ways to lose a horse race, but you might not have this one on your list: Straight Line was done in by a one-eyed horse.

On a roll from late last summer into fall, Straight Line had won 4 of 5 starts, including a stakes race, when he went off as the 6-5 favorite Jan. 27 in the Forego Stakes at Turfway Park. Brian Williamson, the son-in-law of trainer Harvey Vanier, was watching on video.

"It looked like on the turn he broke down, and I said 'Oh no,' and then the jock went to riding him again, and I said, 'Well, I guess he must be okay,' " Williamson recounted.

Okay, but a well-beaten eighth when the Polytrack had cleared. Straight Line, trapped inside after breaking from post 1, had been shoved into the rail by a rival to his outside.

"They said it was a one-eyed horse in the three path that came in," Williamson said.

"They" are the overseers of the Vanier string at Keeneland, but Straight Line starts under Williamson's name when he runs Saturday in the $45,000 Hula Chief Stakes at Hawthorne. One-eyed horses should not be a concern - but the competition is.

There are six others in the six-furlong Hula Chief, and the field includes the Christine Janks-trained pair of High Expectations and Fifteen Rounds, both top sprinters on this circuit, as well as Star by Design, who ended his 2006 campaign like a legitimate stakes horse, and began 2007 with a comfortable sprint allowance win at Hawthorne. Bye Bye Crafty, Out for a Spin, and the Hawthorne-loving Catalissa round out the field.

Straight Line's connections have designs on the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland next month, and the Hula Chief serves adequately as a prep for that spot. Not that Straight Line can't win. But what Straight Line, a 10-time winner of almost $500,000, has not done is compete in a race at Hawthorne.

Fifteen Rounds, on the other hand, has won 4 of 7 Hawthorne starts, but was fifth the last time he raced here, beaten three lengths by High Expectations in a high-end allowance race last Oct. 9. High Expectations had previously lost nine starts at Hawthorne, but moved forward last season when Janks switched him to one-turn racing.

Star by Design followed up on a sharp Arlington Park allowance win with a troubled third in the Prairie Meadows Derby last Sept. 9, then easily won a second-level allowance before an injury cut short his season. He was much the best Feb. 24 in a third-level allowance race here, and should improve off that effort.