08/11/2011 3:22PM

Ellis Park: Contention runs deep in Grade 3 Gardenia

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With a modest purse of $100,000, Saturday’s Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park would be hard pressured to draw the cream of the older filly and mare division.

However, it did attract just about everyone else. A field of 12, plus one also-eligible, was entered for the one-mile Gardenia, the signature race and lone graded stakes race of the track’s meet.

Although the Gardenia lacks a recognizable national horse, one that could seemingly contend in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic in the fall, contention runs deep, with few toss-outs.

Among the notable entrants is Tidal Pool, third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks last year; Taptam, a multiple stakes-winner with earnings in excess of $500,000; and Dundalk Dust, winner of the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs last fall.

Trainer Bret Calhoun, who entered the uncoupled entry of Taptam and the stakes-placed Bella Medaglia, said his fillies ended up in the Gardenia because of a shortage of major stakes during the summer.

“There haven’t been great opportunities, and it’s a little easier ship for us,” said Calhoun, whose stable in based at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

His two fillies come off good performances in stakes races at Prairie Meadows. Bella Medaglia, a 4-year-old, ran second in the Iowa Distaff on June 24, and Taptam was a dead-heat runner-up in the Wild Rose Stakes at Prairie on May 28.

Both rank among the faster fillies in the race, with Bella Medaglia coming off pair of 89 Beyer Speed Figures, and Taptam having earned an 88 in her last start.

Also likely to be prominent is Chicago shipper La Rocca, who ran second in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap on July 3, finishing a length in front of Tidal Pool.

The fastest horse, at least based on Beyers, is sprinter Fortune Play, a 5-year-old daughter of Five Star Day who won the seven-furlong Roxelana Stakes at Churchill Downs on July 1 with a 94 Beyer.

Trainer John Booker, who took over her training this year for owner Heuristic Stable, said the layout of Ellis Park made the Gardenia the right race to try her at a mile. Mile races at Ellis Park are contested out of its hook-like chute, making it easier than a two-turn route would be on a stretch-out runner like her, he said.

Weather.com is forecasting scattered thundershowers Saturday with afternoon temperatures in the 80s.