08/02/2006 11:00PM

Cancellations produce bonanza

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HENDERSON, Ky. - In the wake of the four heat-related cancellations at East Coast tracks Wednesday, the proverbial holes being burnt in the pockets of North American horseplayers resulted in the second-largest all-sources handle in Ellis Park history.

A total of $5,001,909 was bet on an otherwise mundane nine-race card, undoubtedly the result of horseplayers searching for races to bet on after a brutal heat wave caused Saratoga, Monmouth, Delaware, and Suffolk to cancel. The total handle is second to the track-record $5.3 million wagered on Aug. 9, 2003, and was more than double the roughly $2.4 million that Ellis could have been expected to handle if not for the cancellations.

Even before the Wednesday program began, Ellis officials suspected they were in for a huge day when they learned of the cancellations.

"We knew it was going to give us an opportunity to take advantage of the simulcast world," said Ellis general manager Brian Elmore. "It gave us a rare chance to get our product out there that we wouldn't normally have."

Although the weather was very hot here Wednesday, too, with temperatures in the mid-90's and the heat index soaring past 100, sultry summer days are a way of life at Ellis, and no thought was given to canceling.

"It was actually two degrees cooler than opening day [July 19]," said Elmore. "And I didn't have one trainer, owner, rider, or steward say to me, 'Brian, we need to think about not running today.' Nary a one."

Ontrack figures for Wednesday reflected a typical day: attendance was 1,815, and ontrack handle was $147,409. But it was the signal-starved simulcast customers who turned the day into an unexpected windfall for the track and ultimately led Elmore, 50, to celebrate in a rather unusual way.

"As the day went on, I told the mutuels department that if we got $5 million, I'd run a lap around the track afterward," he said. So about 30 or so people wound up cheering on Elmore - who kept on his dress shirt and slacks but removed his necktie and switched into sneakers - as he made a full circuit around the one-mile turf course.

"I sure was glad when I hit the three-sixteenths pole," he said. "That's where the sprinklers came on."

Mare in foal survives breakdown

When heavily favored Dirty Rush broke down during the stretch run of the feature race here Wednesday, it initially appeared she might have to be euthanized - which would have been a double tragedy. Dirty Rush was bred last spring to the first-year sire Purge and had been racing in foal since early April.

But trainer Ian Wilkes said Thursday from the Skylight Training Center near Louisville that Dirty Rush and her foal are going to survive after the mother-to-be was found to have a slab fracture of the left knee.

"We X-rayed her this morning, and we've got her comfortable," said Wilkes, who on Monday won the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga with Court Folly. "We still need an opinion on whether she'll need surgery."

From eight starts, Dirty Rush, by Wild Rush, netted two wins, a minor stakes placing, and earnings of $77,213. The 3-year-old filly is owned by her co-breeder, Kirt Cahill.

Gardenia blooms early

For years, the Gardenia Handicap was run in late August, on or near the same weekend as the Travers Stakes. But several years ago, now-retired Ellis general manager Paul Kuerzi shifted the track's marquee event to earlier in August in an attempt to create its own niche while also attracting fans who might otherwise have been busy with post-summer activities revolving around their children returning to school.

Racing secretary Doug Bredar said his ideal date for the Gardenia (and the rest of the Big Four Stakes program) this year might have been next Saturday, Aug. 12, but that conflicts with the Arlington Million card at Arlington Park, which, like Ellis, is owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

"I also wanted to run before Mountaineer had its big day," said Bredar, referring to Sunday's all-stakes program, anchored by the West Virginia Derby. "Last year, their program took away quite a few horses we might have gotten."

The resulting Aug. 5 date is the earliest in the 26 runnings of the Gardenia.

Seek Gold gets extended vacation

Trainer Ron Moquett said he has turned out stable star Seek Gold for a brief freshening.

"I want to have him back ready to run once before the Clark Handicap" on Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs, he said.

Seek Gold scored easily the biggest victory of his career when he posted a 91-1 upset in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill in June. Seek Gold finished fifth and last in the July 8 Hollywood Gold Cup in his only subsequent start.

* From the Dept. of What a Funny Coincidence, Ellis Park is offering free umbrellas with every paid admission here Saturday. The giveaway, which was planned long ago, comes just 10 days after a widely documented incident in which a large picnic umbrella flew onto the track during the stretch run of a race.

* Ellis and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association are hosting Scholarship Day here Sunday. Ten $1,000 college scholarships will be raffled off throughout the day. About 750 people registered for last year's raffle.