07/08/2008 11:00PM

Dispute settled, focus returns to racing


OK, let's try this again.

Ellis Park will open its 2008 meet Friday. It's a week later than originally scheduled, but having dodged a potentially fatal bullet, virtually everyone affiliated with the Henderson, Ky., track is simply happy to be back in business.

A widely publicized dispute that threatened to shutter 86-year-old Ellis was resolved Saturday - the day after the meet originally was scheduled to open - after track owner Ron Geary came to an agreement with horsemen over account-wagering revenue splits. Horsemen will now receive approximately 6 percent of the account-wagering handle. With that controversy behind them for now, everyone can turn their attention to the sport of horse racing.

"You can't imagine my relief to have the track opening," Geary said.

A 10-race card will kick off what will be at least 39 days of racing at the track fondly known as "The Pea Patch." Ellis officials have not yet determined whether the five days lost to the account-wagering dispute last week will be made up through more days or more races, if at all.

Every Friday, including this one, will carry a twilight first post of 2:40 p.m. Central, with casual entertainment to follow after the races. First post is 12:40 p.m. on all other racing days.

The nominal highlight of the opening-day program is the ninth race, a $25,500 turf allowance, but in reality, the race with the biggest punch is the fourth, a $9,900 starter allowance. That's because Raving Rocket will be going for his 12th straight victory when facing seven others in the six-furlong race.

Raving Rocket, owned by Louis O'Brien, will be saddled by Ralph Martinez, the leading trainer at Ellis last year. The 6-year-old gelding is a prime candidate to run next in the $50,000 Claiming Crown Express on Aug. 2 at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.

The high point of the Ellis meet will come Aug. 16, when the only graded race, the Grade 3, $150,000 Gardenia Stakes, anchors the Big Four Stakes program. The first of 11 stakes at the meet comes Saturday, with the $50,000 Audubon Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

Among the jockeys who figure to vie for top-five spots are Corey Lanerie, Brian Hernandez Jr., John McKee, Orlando Mojica, Victor Lebron, and Tracy Hebert. Jamie Theriot will ride early in the meet, including Friday, before heading to Saratoga, which begins July 23.

Luke Kruytbosch will be back in the announcer's booth for his 10th season at Ellis.