07/11/2005 12:00AM

Castanon, Martin can reach mountaintop

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For five straight years, from 1998 to 2002, the leading rider at Ellis Park was Jon Court. And after Court left Kentucky, the mantle was assumed by Rafael Bejarano, who thoroughly dominated in 2003 and 2004.

But when the 41-day Ellis Park meet begins Wednesday in Henderson, Ky., there will be no clear-cut favorite for leading jockey. Court is riding in Southern California, and for the first time in his rising career, Bejarano will be part of the elite jockey colony at the Saratoga meet that begins July 27.

This changing of the guard at Ellis would seem to favor Eddie Martin Jr. and Jesus Castanon, both of whom are coming off a solid meet at Churchill Downs. Moreover, considering the predominance of cheaper races at Ellis, both are willing to ride in any category of race, a major factor in the drive for leading rider.

Castanon was particularly strong during the last few weeks of Churchill. Despite riding sparingly during Kentucky Derby week and the early part of the meet, Castanon finished with 26 wins, good for ninth in the final standings.

Castanon's agent, Danny Gargan, said he is eager to get going at an Ellis meet lacking an obvious favorite for the jockey title. Gargan said he has lined up "a ton of business" for the opening stages of Ellis.

"We're going to do our best to capitalize on the momentum we built during the last half of the Churchill meet," said Gargan.

The list of jockeys who figure to contend for top-five spots at Ellis also includes Orlando Mojica, John McKee, Calvin Borel, Willie Martinez, Corey Lanerie, Bill Troilo, and apprentice Jordan Charkoudian.

Shepherd back riding in Kentucky

Rejoining the Kentucky jockey colony for the summer will be Justin Shepherd, who has ridden primarily this year at Oaklawn Park and Prairie Meadows. Shepherd, whose business will be handled by agent Norm Schmitt, will ride mostly for trainer Larry Jones, who, with some 40 horses, has one of the largest stables at Ellis.

Shepherd, 18, rode 14 winners last year at Ellis.

Meanwhile, Larry Melancon has hired Larry Edwards as his agent after splitting with Schmitt. Edwards also will continue to work for veteran Craig Perret.

Ellis sets trainer-bonus figure

Ellis will pay out $10,000 in bonuses to trainers with the most starts at the coming meet. For purposes of the bonus, the meet will be split into two halves, July 13-Aug. 7 and Aug. 10-Sept. 5.

In each half of the meet, the bonuses will be split among categories created by size of stable. "The bonus program is one way to reward horsemen who race with us," said racing secretary Doug Bredar.

Werner ends well

When trainer Ronny Werner swept both overnight stakes Saturday at Churchill, he was finally able to celebrate what had been a long, tough meet.

Werner had his meet compromised by quarantine sanctions prompted by an outbreak of the equine herpes virus in mid-May. But when Flying Glitter held gamely to win the Heavenly Cause and Unbridled Sidney romped in the Zenobia Empress, Werner's grit and patience finally were rewarded.

"My crew really went through a grind, with all the quarantine stuff and everything," said Werner. "It was tough keeping their spirits up, so I was really, really happy for them and my owners Saturday. We kept getting popped in the mouth, but everybody knew we just had to fight through it. So Saturday was a whole lot of fun for all of us."

Unbridled Sidney, owned by Douglas Devenport, set a turf-course record for five furlongs, timed in 55.54 seconds. "We'll keep it simple - short and on the grass," said Werner. "The way she ran, horses like her only have so many races in them, so you want to pick your spots wisely."

Flying Glitter, owned by Richard and Nancy Kaster, could run next at Saratoga, said Werner.

Elliott Walden's finale

Far removed from the hubbub surrounding Deputy G in the winner's circle of the Bashford Manor Stakes, trainer Elliott Walden walked quietly alongside his son, Will, and jockey Larry Melancon through the Churchill paddock tunnel. Walden had just sent out the final starter of his distinguished training career - Fifty Seven Flat, ridden by Melancon, who finished ninth of 10 starters in the Bashford Manor.

"I'm fine with everything," said Walden, who has assumed the new title of vice president of racing and bloodstock services for WinStar Farm. "It'll be different, but I'll still be around."

Walden, who won training titles at Churchill and Keeneland, won 1,016 races, with stable earnings of nearly $46 million.

Reunited might go in Test

Reunited, a Dixie Union filly who ran her career mark to 2 for 3 with a terrific score Saturday at Churchill for owner Will Farish, is a good possibility to run back in the Grade 1 Test Stakes on Aug. 6 at Saratoga, said trainer Neil Howard.

"It's something that Mr. Farish and I will definitely have to talk about," said Howard. "That was a really good race for her."

Lunsford and Brothers unveil one

Owner Bruce Lunsford and trainer Frank Brothers had a great weekend. Not only did Madcap Escapade win Sunday's $500,000 Princess Rooney Stakes at Calder, but the two men also unveiled a highly promising 2-year-old in First Samurai, who scored a 5 1/2-length victory in the last race Saturday at Churchill.

First Samurai, a colt by Giant's Causeway, is co-owned by Lunsford with Lansdon Robbins.

* Two horses pointing for upcoming stakes outside of Kentucky were out for work Saturday. Rush Bay, entered in Saturday's Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, went a half-mile in 50 seconds at Churchill. Perfect Drift, a major contender for the July 30 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park, went six furlongs in 1:15.20 at Louisville Trackside.

At a glance: Ellis Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 41 days; Wednesday through Sept. 5; dark Mondays and Tuesdays, except Labor Day, Sept. 5

POST TIME: 12:40 p.m. Central

ADMISSIONS: General, $2; clubhouse, $4; Sky Theatre, $5

PARKING: General, free; valet, $4

HIGHLIGHTS: Ten stakes, including four on Aug. 20, led by the Grade 3, $150,000 Gardenia Handicap

AVERAGE PURSES: About $140,000 per day

LOCATION: On U.S. 41 North in Henderson, Ky.

PHONE: (812) 425-1456 or (800) 333-8110

INTERNET: www.ellisparkracing.com.