07/15/2005 12:00AM

Bettors find easier pickings at Ellis


LEXINGTON, Ky. - If you love racing, there is a lot to be said for spending part of your summer at a fashionable track like Saratoga or Del Mar. If you can't enjoy attending the races at either of those venues, though, the next best way to have fun this summer is to spend your simulcast betting dollars playing the races at the track that gives you the best chance of showing a profit. In that respect, Ellis Park stands out.

Sprint races on the main track at Ellis are made to order for track bias-oriented bettors. Last year, 39 percent of those races were won by the horse who led at the first call. That is well above the usual win percentage of favorites, and the payoffs on these front-runners were often much higher than the returns on favorites. Route races on the dirt provided solid but more ordinary results, with 27 percent wins.

Turf sprints were almost as productive for the early leaders, with 38 percent wins. Route races on the grass yielded just a shade less than 26-percent winning first-call leaders, similar to the results seen in main-track routes.

Even when the early leader did not prevail, it was still a good idea to be in contention early in sprint races. The winner was located in the front half of the field at the first call in 81 percent of the main track sprints and in 70 percent of the turf sprints. Those numbers dropped to 60 percent in dirt routes and 53 percent in turf routes.

Given the ability to downgrade the chances of the obvious closers, and the advantage of fine-tuning your decision making while evaluating the contenders based on how well they fit the track profile, handicapping and betting the races at Ellis is a simpler task than it is at some other venues.

Just in case you are wondering if the early trends during the current meet have been significantly different than last year's results, I have tabulated the results from the first two days.

Four of the 10 sprint races on the dirt were won by the leader at the first call on Wednesday and Thursday. The track was muddy on both days. Six of the 10 winners were located in the front half of their field at the first call. Early speed has not been an advantage in route races in the mud. Just one of the eight races were won by the early leader and only two of those races were won by horses who showed enough tactical speed to be in the front half of the field after a quarter-mile. There were no turf races on either day.

The win percentages of early leaders in route races should improve from that 12-percent win rate as the meet goes on, so it is a good idea to give the route speed horses who ran well under adverse conditions Wednesday and Thursday some extra credit when they run back.

Newport Trick ran in the seventh race July 13. It was a first-level allowance for 3-year-old fillies at a mile, which was originally scheduled to be run on the turf, but was moved to the main track. Newport Trick dueled with 6-5 favorite Swavomira, put that rival away, drew off to a two-length lead, then was passed by Canape, who was helped by the bias when she rallied from last of seven to win going away. Newport Trick finished second, 6 1/4 lengths clear of third. Newport Trick had run on the dirt in 11 of her 12 previous races prior to this start, so it would be no surprise to see her return on the dirt next time. Regardless of the surface, she will have an easier time lasting on the lead if a more typical bias is in force next time.

On July 14, Nerinx ran in the third race, a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds at a mile. He dueled until deep stretch, then was outkicked by 9-10 favorite King Lion, a closer who was helped by the bias when he moved from fifth of seven at the first call to win that race. Nerinx finished second, four lengths clear of third. He can beat a similar group in his return.