08/12/2008 11:00PM

Fancy Fusaichi heads meet's top race


HENDERSON, Ky. - Fancy Fusaichi, a romping winner of her stakes debut in her last start, will be the starting highweight Saturday in the Grade 3 Gardenia Handicap, the only graded race of the 39-day meet at Ellis Park.

Fancy Fusaichi was an 8 3/4-length winner of the Iowa Distaff on June 28 at Prairie Meadows and has trained in the interim at Churchill Downs for trainer Bill Mott and assistant Kenny McCarthy. The Kinsman Stable homebred drew post 4 in a field of seven fillies and mares entered in the $150,000 Gardenia. She will carry highweight of 117 pounds in the one-mile race.

Besides Fancy Fusaichi, who will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., the Gardenia field includes Kathleens Reel (116 pounds), the third-place finisher two starts back in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill; and Unforgotten (116), who was in particularly sharp form during the winter in Louisiana.

In order, the lineup for the 27th Gardenia is: Kathleens Real, Miss Atlantic, Marquee Delivery, Fancy Fusaichi, Swift Temper, Unforgotten, and Windy Indy.

The connections for several listed highweights, most notably Bear Now (122), passed on the Gardenia when entries were taken Wednesday.

Meet's best card on Saturday

The Gardenia is one of three stakes on a 12-race Saturday program at Ellis. For several years, the Gardenia anchored what was known as the Big Four Stakes Day, but the track quietly reshuffled the 2008 stakes schedule while discarding the Big Four moniker.

While the Regaey Island, formerly part of the Big Four, was moved to another date and renamed the Cliff Guilliams Memorial, two seven-furlong stakes for 2-year-olds - the $50,000 Anna M. Fisher Debutante for fillies, and the $50,000 James C. Ellis Juvenile for colts and geldings - remain on the Gardenia undercard.

The Fisher Debutante drew eight fillies, with the likely favorites being Shadow of Storm and Partners Star.

The Ellis Juvenile will have six betting interests and seven starters, with the Stonerside Stable coupled entry of Ready Racer and Citizen sure to be a huge favorite. Bernie Flint trains both colts.

Besides the stakes, three allowances also are carded on easily the best program of the year at Ellis.

Purse hike

For a track whose mere existence was threatened in early July with the highly publicized dispute over account wagering revenues, Ellis has appeared to make an admirable recovery. Effective Wednesday, the track raised some of its purses by 5 percent, not including Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements nor stakes races.

Ellis officials, while declining to offer specific figures, said account wagering has been a significant reason they were able to offer the modest increase. Track president Ron Geary said Ellis currently is "fifth or sixth" in popularity in account-wagering simulcast signals in North America, behind Saratoga, Del Mar, and others.

Theriot ranks third

Jamie Theriot had such a good Churchill Downs spring meet that he and agent Fred Aime intended to go to Saratoga for the summer. But family considerations intervened, and Theriot wound up staying in Louisville and riding mostly at Ellis.

"We had to call an audible at the last minute," said Aime.

Theriot, who won six races on one card at Churchill, finished fifth in the standings with 48 wins. Into Wednesday action at Ellis, he had won with 22 of his 98 mounts, good for third behind runaway leading jockey Victor Lebron and apprentice Lyndie Wade.

o The feature race on the Friday twilight card is a $24,000 optional-claimer matching eight 3-year-olds and upward at six furlongs on the main track. Carded as the ninth of 10 races, several horses drawn to the outside - namely, Podgy, Run Lucky, and Chillin Villain - look like top contenders.

With first post set for 2:40 p.m. Central, live racing is followed each Friday by live entertainment under the tent in the paddock gardens.

o Until he died last month, Luke Kruytbosch not only was the race-caller at Ellis since 1999, but also the host of the local replay show. He also composed the morning line for the track program. Bill Downes took over the race calls and the replay show on Aug. 6 following a stint of several weeks by Keith Nelson, while Billy Pettingill, the Equibase clocker, has been making the programs odds.

o Longtime mutuel clerks locked out by Ellis management since last fall have continued to picket the track's entrance gates. Replacement clerks working for lesser wages and benefits have replaced union clerks at ontrack betting windows.

o Although weather conditions at Ellis tend to range somewhere from very hot to sultry, that isn't the case this week. The high temperatures have been in the mid-80s.

o Ellis is hosting an "Ultimate Handicapper's Challenge" during the Saturday card. More information is available by contacting director of operations Bob Jackson through ellisparkracing.com.