08/23/2001 12:00AM

Ellis Park: Fajardo still improving


Very early in his 3-year-old season, Fajardo was considered a fringe candidate for the 2000 Triple Crown.

But after Fajardo was trounced in a second-level allowance at Gulftream, trainer Bill Mott quashed all talk about the Kentucky Derby, opting for a less ambitious agenda.

It took a while, but Fajardo, a 4-year-old gray by Runaway Groom, seems to be coming into his own. Based at Churchill Downs with Mott's longtime assistant Ralph Nicks, Fajardo will go for his third straight victory Saturday when he carries co-top weight of 116 pounds in a well-matched field in the $75,000 Governor's Handi-cap at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky.

Veteran jockey Joe Johnson will be back aboard Fajardo after having guided the colt to his last two wins. Eight challengers, led by Winning Connection (116) and Da Devil (115), also are entered in the one-mile Governor's.

Da Devil, winner of the Kentucky Cup Classic two years ago, will be trying to rebound off a lackluster performance. He has earned more than $800,000.

Jadada is another solid possibility. Winner of the Fayette Stakes last fall, the 6-year-old has been shut out in his last six races when trying such demanding spots as the Clark Handicap, Hawthorne Gold Cup, and Stephen Foster Handicap.

Among the handful of outside contenders are two 4-year-olds entered off sharp recent victories: Dash for Daylight, winner of the Don Bernhardt Handicap, and Twilight Road, winner of an allowance earlier this month at Arlington.

Storm Day, U.S. Jets, and Tiltam round out the cast.

The Governor's is the ninth of 10 races on a Saturday card that begins at 12:40 p.m. Closing day of the 41-day Ellis meet is Labor Day, Sept. 3.