08/26/2011 1:28PM

Ellis Park: Apprentice right in the thick of it


It has been 20 years since an apprentice topped the rider standings at Ellis Park, and although Roberto Morales seems to stand only an outside chance of winning more races than the likes of Calvin Borel and Jon Court, the 21-year-old Puerto Rican still likes his spot.

“Just to be doing this good, I am happy,” Morales said through his agent, Julio Espinoza.

Into Friday, which began the final seven-day stretch of the 31-day meet at Ellis in western Kentucky, it was Borel, with 21 wins, and Court (19) who held a slight lead over Morales (18), who rides with a five-pound weight allowance, or “bug.” The last time a bugboy won an Ellis riding title was in 1991, when James Parsley finished in a tie with Ricardo Lopez.

Morales began his riding career in his homeland, which has produced such stars as Angel Cordero Jr., John Velazquez, Eddie Belmonte, and others. He began riding at Gulfstream Park in February, then moved to Calder before coming to Kentucky in late June. The high point so far in his two months here was a three-win day at Ellis on Aug. 7.

Espinoza, himself a former leading jockey in Kentucky, said Morales will be based indefinitely on this circuit, which moves next to Turfway and Kentucky Downs in September. Espinoza said Morales is enrolled in a course for English as a second language in Louisville.

“He’s improving all the time, so we’re both excited about what’s still to come,” said Espinoza.

Looking for a spot for ‘Cowboy’

No track would be more fitting than Ellis Park for a next start for a 2-year-old gelding named Cowboy Jones. And Tom Dorris, the trainer of Cowboy Jones, is trying to make that happen.

“I’ve got the Ellis condition book trying to find the right spot,” Dorris said this week from Arlington Park in Chicago, where Cowboy Jones won his career debut in a $15,000 maiden-claiming race during Arlington Million week.

The human Cowboy Jones, of course, is R.A. Jones, the legendary jockey who has ridden competitively in seven decades, starting in 1959. Dorris, a six-time leading trainer at Ellis from 1978-1986, said he occasionally employed Jones as a rider, although the heydays for Jones came earlier, from the early 1960’s to the early 1970’s, when he was a perennial leading rider at Ellis and Miles Park.

Jones, 68, still rides races, albeit sparingly, while earning a living as an exercise rider year-round at Ellis. His last victory came on a horse named Awtair nearly seven years ago at Turfway Park.

Cowboy Jones, the 2-year-old, was bred and is owned by Jones’s friends, Jo Dawn Martin and Rob Darnell.

Filly pulling her weight

William “Don” Bennett trained Acting Zippy to win nearly $635,000 before the gelding made his final career start last fall, and he is hoping a promising 2-year-old filly, Essence of Bubbles, is next in line to carry his modest stable.

Essence of Bubbles, a two-time winner at the Ellis meet, defeated male rivals Thursday in an allowance race at Arlington, making her 3 for 4 in her career and prompting a number of inquiries as to whether owner Dwight Preston wants to sell her.

“If she doesn’t sell, we’ll probably take her back to Chicago for the Lassie,” a Grade 3, $100,000 race on Sept. 10, said Bennett. “She really acts like she likes her job very well. It’s seldom that a small-timer like me gets a horse this good. I think she’s an exceptional filly, and she keeps getting better all the time.”

◗ Next weekend concludes the Ellis meet with a four-day span of racing (Friday-Monday). The final stakes race, the $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Memorial, ends the meet on Labor Day, Sept. 5. Turfway starts Sept. 8.