07/04/2004 11:00PM

Ellis Park switches back to six-day race week


For years, if not decades, racetrack administrations have wrestled with the issue of whether a five-day or six-day race week is better for themselves and their customers.

Six days has its advantages for obvious reasons, almost all of them involving the additional revenue produced by the additional day of opening the racetrack doors. But a longer week also can have a draining effect on fans, horsemen, and other everyday participants, with the negatives ultimately offsetting the positives.

"That can be a tough call either way," said Luke Kruytbosch, publicity director and race-caller at Ellis Park.

After years of running six days a week, Ellis management in 2000 chose to shorten to five-day weeks. So for four years, from 2000 through last year, the Henderson, Ky., track was dark on Mondays and Tuesdays.

But the track is going back to six-day weeks this year, citing studies that show that the bottom line of its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., will be enhanced by adding racing on Mondays. One of the more convincing arguments for Mondays is that Saratoga and Del Mar also run on that day, meaning Ellis can piggyback on two tracks that typically lure large simulcast audiences throughout North America.

Still, Ellis is running nine weeks instead of eight, because of the way the calendar fell, and with the addition Mondays, there will be as many as 130 more races here than last year.

"Obviously it's going to be a challenge," said Doug Bredar, who became Ellis racing secretary two years ago. "We're throwing a lot of different things at the horsemen, hoping to make things interesting for them and the players."

Officials at Ellis and Churchill Downs Inc. say they will closely monitor how the return to six days is received before deciding whether to keep that schedule for 2005 and beyond.

Bejarano expected to rule at Ellis

When Rafael Bejarano won the jockey title last summer at Ellis Park, he dethroned Jon Court, who had set an Ellis record by winning the previous five riding titles in a row.

So considering that he just won the riding crown at Churchill Downs, Bejarano figures to dominate at Ellis about as much as a jockey possibly can. Barring injury or some other misfortune, it's not a matter of whether Bejarano will be the leading rider at Ellis, but by how many wins.

"No doubt he'll be leading rider," Steve Elzey, Bejarano's agent, said Monday from Ellis. "I've had trainers calling me, wanting me to bring him to Saratoga or Del Mar. I know the racing's not as good here, but the way I've got it figured, why move this early in the game?"

Bejarano has led the North American jockey standings since very early in the year, and with dozens of winners ahead of him at Ellis and the Turfway Park fall meet, he is the leading candidate to win the most races this year.

"If we can do that, and if we can add another few riding titles on this circuit, then we can figure out what we want to do later on," said Elzey.

Asmussen takes Churchill title

A four-win day for Steve Asmussen on the penultimate card of the Churchill Downs spring meet gave him the training title for the meet that ended Monday.

Asmussen, the winningest trainer in North America this year, won four times from seven starters on Sunday: with Bird Call ($3.20) in the third, Tina Bull ($6.80) in the fourth, Wildly ($4.60) in the eighth, and Western Roar ($14.40) in the 10th.

The training title was the second at Churchill for Asmussen, who previously won the 2002 fall title. He finished with 35 wins, three more than Dale Romans, who had won or tied for the last four spring-meet titles.

'Roses' saves weekend for Romans

Aside from falling short in his bid for a fifth straight Churchill title, Romans had a great weekend, if for no other reason than the powerful race run Saturday by Roses in May to win the Cornhusker Breeders' Cup at Prairie Meadows.

Romans said that Roses in May, a 4-year-old colt owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, probably would run next in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup on Aug. 22.

"I think when he gets it all figured out, there's no telling where he could go," said Romans.