07/05/2007 11:00PM

Early speed holding well at Ellis

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the Churchill Downs meet wraps up and the Ellis Park meet gathers momentum, it is a good idea to take a look at how Churchill's main track has played during the late stages of the meet and compare those results to the data from the early results at Ellis.

During the five racing days from June 29 through July 5, there were 44 dirt races at Churchill. Two of them were 4 1/2-furlong races. Since they are so short, I typically exclude those races from my track bias samples, so I studied a total of 42 races. Nine of the first-call leaders won, a solid 21 percent. They produced a $2.58 return on investment. For those who are curious, one of those two 4 1/2-furlong races that was excluded was won by a front-runner who paid $37.40.

How much can you tell from just two days of racing at Ellis? When placed in the context of the typical track bias trends found there in recent years, if the early results seem to be headed in the same general direction, that is knowledge worth having. Until that trend is clearly contradicted, handicappers who like to play the first couple of weeks of the meet are probably on safe ground while expecting the traditional trends to remain in place.

But caution is advised when a small sample of races suggests that a dramatic bias change has taken place. It is usually a mistake to take that data at face value. If the usual trends are not confirmed by the early results, the best thing to do is to sit out a few race cards and wait until the prevailing trends become clearer.

Although it lacks the track bias reputation that Keeneland used to have, Ellis Park is often a speed-favoring track, sometimes even more so than the old Keeneland dirt surface. That is why the results of the July 4 opening day card are so interesting.

Mister Jingles led early, then drew off to win the opener by 6 1/4 lengths going a mile. He paid $6.

Fuzzy Cheetah grabbed a clear lead and hid from her opponents in a six-length victory in the second race, a 5 1/2-furlong sprint. She returned $22.40.

The third race was a turf race.

Pennyroyal was the early speed in the fourth. She was clear at the first call, then gradually increased the margin to 2 1/4 lengths at the finish. The win price was $10.

Beauty Royal was first to the first call and improved her position throughout in the fifth, a six-furlong sprint. She scored by 18 1/4 lengths and paid $9.40.

The Man was the exception. He closed from sixth in a seven-horse field to win the sixth race. But first-call leader Kapellmister ran a nice race when he finished a clear second as a 10-1 longshot in that one-mile race.

The seventh race was on the grass.

Wild Sign led early, lost position, then rallied back to win the eighth, a six-furlong sprint, by a head.

Race nine was on the turf.

Labeeb Abey led by two lengths at the first call in the 10th race, increased that margin, and held on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. He paid the biggest price of the group at $37.

Three of the six dirt races July 5 were won by the horse who was second at the first call. The lone winning front-runner paid $5.20.

Add the two days together and you have seven of 13 winning first-call leaders, a strong 53 percent win rate. Although that number is almost certainly too high to maintain over the long run, this early trend is still significant. Until we see evidence to the contrary, the guess is that early speed will continue to do well at Ellis.