06/22/2012 3:49PM

Churchill Downs: Calendar gives Ellis Park sole possession of holiday


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Adjournment comes a little earlier this year at Churchill Downs. For the last 12 years, the spring meet has extended through the July 4 holiday, if not beyond. But the way the calendar happens to fall in 2012, with July 4 being on a Wednesday, the decision was made last fall to run just 39 days and to end on July 1, marking the earliest closing since 1999.

The surrender of the July 4 holiday is good news to officials at Ellis Park in western Kentucky, where the 29-day summer meet will start that day. In three of the last five years (2007, ‘08, and ‘11), Churchill and Ellis have overlapped on July 4.

“That overlap thing doesn’t work too well,” said Dan Bork, in his sixth year as Ellis racing secretary. “July 4 traditionally has been a good opening day at Ellis, and it should be great this year without the overlap.”

At Churchill, Wednesday has become a standard dark day at spring meets, and without making July 4 an “orphan” date, officials have said they did not want to race another week into the summer. Extending the meet in a logical fashion would have meant a five-day week through Sunday, July 8. For the record, Churchill raced on July 4 in five years before 2000: 1983-84, and 1993-95.

The purse structure at Ellis is fairly good, having been bolstered somewhat by the new Instant Racing games, with one major caveat: Maiden special weight and allowance races are heavily enhanced by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, meaning only Kentucky-breds nominated to that program are eligible for the full purse. For example, the first race in the condition book for opening day is a turf sprint for maiden 2-year-old fillies, with $14,000 of the $31,000 purse coming from the development fund.

Three stakes worth at least $50,000 are set for the Ellis meet, led by the Grade 3, $100,000 Gardenia on Aug. 11. The 2011 Gardenia winner was Groupie Doll, who has emerged as the leading candidate for the 2012 Eclipse Award in the filly-mare sprint division.

Bork, who works winters as racing secretary at Gulfstream Park, said the corps of active trainers at Ellis is expected to include Larry Jones, Steve Asmussen, D. Wayne Lukas, and Ronny Werner.

Two more stakes on tap

Churchill still has two more stakes remaining at the meet: the Grade 3 Bashford Manor on a Downs After Dark program next Saturday, June 30, and the Grade 2 Firecracker on closing day.

The $100,000 Bashford Manor, which goes at six furlongs, drew a nominations list of just 18 2-year-olds, led by Roman’s Avenue and Special Jo, both highly impressive first-out winners. Other possibilities include Bluegale, Circle Unbroken, Good Tickled, I’m Boundtoscore, and Positively.

The $150,000 Firecracker, run at a mile on the turf, got 51 nominations and therefore seems likely to get a sizable field. The most notable possibility is Tapitsfly, the 5-year-old mare who won the Grade 1 Just A Game at Belmont Park last out and would be making her first start against male rivals.

* Trainer Eddie Kenneally is a father for the first time after his wife, Catherine, gave birth to a boy baby Friday morning in Lexington. Kenneally, 46, has been having good meets at both Churchill and Belmont Park. He had one entry here Friday and two on Sunday, when he also was to run Surfrider in the Grade 2 Highlander Stakes at Woodbine.

* Tia Murphy, a longtime racing official on the Kentucky circuit, has landed her first job as a racing secretary, having been named to that position for the Kentucky Downs meet in September.