07/02/2013 12:44PM

Ellis Park: Long-distance commuter Nelson takes over as announcer

Tom Keyser
L.ittle Mike will make his first start since March 30 in Saturday's United Nations at Monmouth Park.

The voice may be vaguely familiar. Keith Nelson called races at The Woodlands in Kansas for five years and “maybe 10 or 11” programs in 2008 at Ellis Park when pressed into service following the untimely death of Luke Kruytbosch.

“My time at Ellis was a good experience under horrible circumstances,” recalled Nelson.

When the 29-day Ellis meet begins Thursday in Henderson, Ky., it will be with Nelson as the new full-time caller. He replaces Bill Downes, who worked at Ellis at the end of the 2008 meet and through last year before accepting the same position at Indiana Downs, where meets are considerably longer.

Nelson, 51, will be commuting to and from Kansas City, Mo., where he has a 6-year-old daughter and is working on a master’s degree in criminology at Missouri State University.

“I’ve called less than 2,000 races my whole career and haven’t called any since I was there at Ellis in 2008,” said Nelson, who otherwise has handled play-by-play duties for years for football, basketball, and hockey. “But I really enjoy the racing, and Ellis is such a unique place. I’m looking forward to it.”

Nelson said he tries to emulate the calls of Frank Mihramadi, a veteran caller at Oaklawn Park and the California fairs.

“Frank is so technically sound,” said Nelson. “He rarely takes a deep breath. If I could even come close to being as effective as him, I’d be satisfied.”

Expect to see Kentucky’s top riders

Ellis will not be lacking for quality jockeys this summer. Many of them will commute from Louisville and perhaps stay over a weekend night or two while also riding periodically at Indiana Downs.

The top three jockeys at the 2012 meet – Brian Hernandez Jr. (26 wins), Corey Lanerie (25), and Jon Court (24) – all will follow that schedule, as will maybe a dozen others or more, including Calvin Borel, Jesus Castanon, Ricardo Santana Jr., Norberto Arroyo Jr., Leandro Goncalves, and Victor Lebron.

“It’s an extremely good jockey colony,” said Ellis racing secretary Dan Bork.

At least one jockey, however, rarely leaves Ellis and its surrounding area: R.A. “Cowboy” Jones, who began his career in 1959 and has one mount on the opening-day card, Morato Cat in the third. Jones, 70, works primarily as an exercise rider while competing in races very sparingly. His last win came in 2004.

Dominguez honored by his peers

It was supposed to be a small ceremony acknowledging Shaun Bridgmohan as the leading rider at the Churchill Downs spring meet. Instead, the entire Churchill jockey colony turned it into a wonderful tribute to recently retired jockey Ramon Dominguez.

With his colleagues gathered around him in the winner’s circle on the closing-day program Sunday, Bridgmohan read the full text inscribed on an ornate plaque that depicts Dominguez riding Hansen to victory in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill. In part, Bridgmohan read: “For the person who gave his best … May every day and every moment with your family and friends be fulfilling and full of joy.”

The plaque is signed by Churchill jockeys and staff and was to be delivered this week to Dominguez.

Bridgmohan said he could think of no better way to be honored than to shift the attention to his good friend, Dominguez.

“That was a great, great moment for me,” he said.

Dominguez, 36, announced his retirement last month because of a head injury. He is a three-time Eclipse Award winner with mount earnings of more than $191 million.

Little Mike preps for United Nations

Little Mike had his final breeze for the Grade 1 United Nations when going six furlongs Monday in 1:15.60 over a fast track at Churchill.

Trainer Dale Romans said Little Mike, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf and Arlington Million last year, was booked to leave Tuesday night for the $500,000 United Nations, a 1 3/8-mile turf race to be run Saturday at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Little Mike is unraced since finishing 11th in the Dubai Duty Free on March 30.

“He’s coming off a layoff, and most trainers would prefer to have a prep when they run a horse this long,” said Romans. “But he’s got that speed that makes him tough to catch at these longer distances, so it becomes a matter of whether I have him fit or not. He’s good to go, as far as I’m concerned.”

Little Mike, bred and owned by Carlo and Priscilla Vaccarezza, has earned more than $3 million.

Closing day is Windswept’s time

Windswept earned a rare distinction on closing day at Churchill by winning a first-level allowance. He is now 2 for 7 lifetime, with his only prior triumph also coming on a Churchill spring-meet finale in a maiden race on July 4, 2011.

Charlie LoPresti trains Windswept for Bert, Elaine, and Richard Klein, the breeders of the 5-year-old horse.

“They need to have more closing days here,” LoPresti said with a laugh.

Moquett’s big weekend

Knowing the luck Ron Moquett has enjoyed lately, the second race Thursday at Ellis will be rained off the turf, and Biker Boy will be a huge favorite when drawing in as a main track only designee.

Few trainers nationwide were hotter than Moquett last weekend. He won two Friday stakes at Prairie Meadows with Gentlemen’s Bet and Livi Makenzie; the Kelly’s Landing overnight stakes on Saturday evening at Churchill with Right to Vote; and a claiming sprint with Rhonda’s Lemondrop on Sunday at Churchill. He went 4 for 5 in the three-day span.

“Every week should be that good,” Moquett said with a grin.

Claiming spree on meet’s last day

A whopping 25 horses were claimed from the 10-race closing-day program at Churchill, with horsemen clearly encouraged by being able to run them out-of-state when the meet is over. Horses claimed while the meet is still ongoing are ineligible to race elsewhere.

Remarkably, all but one of the eight fillies and mares in the second race were claimed for $8,000 apiece, some with as many as six claims submitted.

In all, 49 horses were claimed during the final four-day span of the Churchill meet.

◗ Travers Manley has resigned his position as a publicity assistant at Churchill to pursue a law degree at the University of Kentucky. Manley, 24, became well known in the last couple of years to Churchill horsemen and out-of-town media through his duties.