07/28/2006 12:00AM

Early speed is still golden at Ellis Park


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The main track at Ellis Park is more speed-favoring than most others in the country.

In the track and distance section of my book, "The Power of Early Speed," the win percentage of first-call leaders on the main track at Ellis is 40 percent and it's even higher at distances ranging from five through six furlongs. It is in the mid-30-percent range at 6 1/2 and seven furlongs, and nearly 25 percent in one-mile races. The returns on investment are quite impressive, too. The lowest at any of these distances is $2.49, and four others range from $4.26 to as high as $5.49.

I checked the results of the races at Ellis during the six race cards run from July 20-27 to see if horses with early speed were as effective as usual on the main track in recent races at the current meet. On July 20, three of the seven first-call leaders won. Six of the seven winners raced in the front-half of their field at that point.

Racing was canceled after just four races on July 21. That was the fairest of the days from a track bias perspective with one early leader winning, and two of the four races won by a horse that was in the front-half of his field during the early going.

Six of the 10 winners on the dirt on July 22 were first or second at the end of the first quarter-mile. Two led, and four others were second. Seven winners were located in the front-half of their field.

You didn't want to rally from off the pace on July 23. Three of the eight winners led at the first call, with another two winners located in second at that point, for a combined 62 percent success rate. Six winners came from the front-half of the pack.

Half of the six winners on the dirt on July 26 were first or second at the first call. Two led, another was second. Those were the same three winners who scored from the front-half of their field.

If you weren't up close to the lead on July 27, you were fighting an uphill battle. Three of the six winners on the main track led early, with another two winners just off the lead in second, for a combined 83 percent. Those were the same five winners who were located in the first half of their field at the first call.

The totals during this period are 14 front-running winners from 41 dirt races for a generous 34 percent success rate, similar to the rate of winning favorites, with the key difference being that the winners with early speed paid higher prices than the favorites.

The win rate was higher in sprints than routes, but the numbers were strong in both categories. Early leaders at distances of less than a mile won 36 percent of the time vs. 31 percent in races at a mile, the longest distance run during this period.

Handicappers looking to capitalize on this trend on Sunday's card won't find any standouts, but there are still closers to bet against and potential front-runners to sift through. Ender's Shadow figures to battle for early supremacy in the second, a $15,000 claiming race. The catch is that he is plunging in class following a couple of recent close second-place finishes in $50,000 optional claiming races. If he hasn't lost a step or two he can go all the way, but dramatic drops following good races are often a negative sign, and low odds will not be a bargain. Fighting Jerry looms as an interesting alternative. He showed good early zip at Fairmount Park in his recent races, and should offer more betting value than the class plunger.

Ground Hog dueled most of the way, then weakened and finished fifth, beaten by 4 3/4 lengths as a 43-1 longshot in a maiden special in his debut at Churchill. The addition of Lasix can help, and an alert start would give him a chance to be the speed of the speed in the ninth, a one-mile maiden special.