07/12/2007 11:00PM

Top two looking for a little luck


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The unlucky second-place finishers of the last two Hanshin Handicaps square off in the featured third race on a surprisingly strong Sunday card at Arlington Park.

Fifteen Rounds goes down in the record books as the second-place finisher in the 2006 Hanshin, but that was a really tough loss. Fifteen Rounds, running the race of his life, crossed the wire first by a length, but was disqualified to second for what, at best, was a minor infraction in the stretch.

Lewis Michael's poor luck in this year's Hanshin was more subtle. Hanshin Day, May 26, was one of the rare occasions when a bias had a hold of Arlington's new Polytrack. Speed was holding firm, and Lewis Michael gave futile chase as Spotsgone - running the race of his life - set a frantic pace and never came back to the field.

Lewis Michael kept a fairly low profile in June, breezing three times but never appearing to do any serious work for trainer Wayne Catalano. But Catalano said last week that any wrinkles in Lewis Michael's day-to-day conditioning had been ironed out, and that the horse was back on his game. He showed it, too, as he worked five furlongs on July 7 in a bullet 59.60 seconds.

And a sharp Lewis Michael will be difficult to beat in the Sunday feature. Consistent if unspectacular, Lewis Michael's best efforts have come in spots where one other horse has turned in a standout performance. In May 2006, he was second by a neck to Sunriver, who did not accomplish much the rest of the year. Last fall, Midnight Lute turned in a freakishly good Polytrack debut to finish four lengths ahead of Lewis Michael in the Perryville Stakes at Keeneland, and in April, the same thing happened in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup, with Silent Name running one of the best Polytrack races of the Keeneland meet to beat Lewis Michael by four lengths.

The argument could be made that at age 7 Fifteen Rounds has gone past his best, and on Sunday, trainer Christine Janks has entered him under race 3's $100,000 claiming option. But Fifteen Rounds - a winner in 8 of his 14 starts on Arlington's old dirt track, but 0 for 2 this meet - might still have enough left. He was third, beaten less than a length, in a quickly run sprint allowance race June 16, an improvement over his first start at Arlington this season, and on June 30, Fifteen Rounds worked even faster than Lewis Michael, going five furlongs in 59 seconds.

Of the other four horses in the race, Tally Up and Buddy Got Even appear to have the best chance at cracking the exacta.