06/19/2008 12:00AM

Ellis officials gearing up for meet


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The official start of summer was Friday, and the change of season signals an impending change of venues for many horsemen at the Churchill Downs spring meet, which runs through July 6.

Some are making plans for Saratoga, Arlington, or elsewhere. As always, Ellis Park will be a destination, although many trainers simply will keep their horses stabled at Churchill while sending them on the 2 1/2-hour westward van trip to Ellis in Henderson, Ky.

For the second straight year, the end of Churchill will overlap with the start of Ellis, a change that was approved in September 2006 by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority after Louisville businessman Ron Geary purchased Ellis from Churchill Downs Inc., which had owned the track since 1998.

Ellis begins a 44-day meet July 4. The racing authority approved a July 4 start date for Ellis through 2011.

"One good thing is we're only overlapping three days this year instead of five" last year, said Ellis racing secretary Dan Bork. "Competing for horses is a struggle for everybody, but we're going to try to make 10 races for our first three programs."

Bork said per-day purses at Ellis will average "about $150,000, including stakes, which is right about where we were last year."

There will be no stakes race on opening weekend; the first stakes is the $50,000 Audubon Oaks on July 12. The meet highlight, the Gardenia Handicap, is set for Aug. 16. A tribute to the late turf writer Cliff Guilliams will be held Aug. 2. Ellis also is introducing a twilight post time of 2:40 p.m. Central for Fridays.

Theriot riding a hot streak

Jockey Jamie Theriot picked up right where he left off at Churchill when he won with his first two mounts Thursday, both favorites. Theriot won aboard A R Rio Bravo ($4.80) in the first race and Perfectus ($3.60) in the third. Theriot rode a career-high six winners from just seven mounts Wednesday.

Going back to his final mount Sunday, when he won the 10th race aboard Morghyn, Theriot went a remarkable 9 for 10 until Cosimo, his mount in the fifth race Thursday, finished fourth. The streak included six wins in a row - his last four mounts Wednesday and his first two Thursday.

Pat Day won with 7 of 8 mounts on June 20, 1984, to set the Churchill record for most wins on a card. Wednesday marked the 10th time a jockey won six at Churchill - but only twice before, when Jimmie Lee went 6 for 6 in 1907 and Day went 6 for 7 in November 1984 - had it been done with so few mounts.

Agent Fred Aime said Theriot, 29, plans to stay in Louisville for much of the summer, although "we'll probably ship around quite a bit for stakes, maybe ride a little at Ellis, too."

Close race for leading owner

The race for leading owner at the Churchill meet is a tight one. Through Thursday, Maggi Moss was tied with Ken and Sarah Ramsey with 12 wins apiece.

Moss, the leading owner in North America in 2006, won her first Churchill title last spring. The Ramseys, the Eclipse Award-winning owners of 2004, have won or tied for 12 Churchill titles, with the latest coming last fall.

Racecar Rhapsody sale pending

The pending sale of Racecar Rhapsody may not be finalized for another few days, according to trainer Ken McPeek. Racecar Rhapsody, fourth in the May 17 Preakness in his last start, was scratched from a Wednesday allowance race at Churchill.

Racecar Rhapsody is owned by a partnership headed by Jerry Carroll. The identity of the prospective buyer has not been revealed.

Brass Hat getting a break

Brass Hat, fifth behind Curlin last Saturday in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill, will get a few weeks off, trainer Buff Bradley said. "I'm going to give him at least three weeks off, maybe six," Bradley said. The Sept. 20 Massachusetts Handicap, which Brass Hat won last year, is on the itinerary again, Bradley added.

Por Farvor eyes Claiming Crown

John Fahey, the trainer of Por Favor, is looking to use the seventh race Saturday at Churchill as a springboard to the 10th Claiming Crown. Por Favor, a winner earlier at the meet for $25,000 claiming, is eligible for $7,500 starter allowances - the conditions for the Saturday race at Churchill and for the $50,000 Iron Horse in the Claiming Crown series. "I'd hope he fits after winning for 25," Fahey said.

The seven-race, $600,000 Claiming Crown will be run Aug. 2 at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.