08/16/2005 11:00PM

Favorites could rule pick-four races


HENDERSON, Ky. - Horseplayers will be happy to know that Ellis Park is offering an all-stakes pick four here Saturday, the richest day in track history.

Chalk players may be even happier.

Favorites could be in line to dominate the races that make up the inaugural "Big Four Stakes Saturday," a program highlighted by the lone graded race of the Ellis meet, the Grade 3, $150,000 Gardenia Handicap.

Dream of Summer, who was good enough to win the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April, arrived here Monday from Southern California and figures to be a solid favorite in the Gardenia, which is run at a mile.

Corey Nakatani is scheduled to be in from Del Mar for his first-ever ride at Ellis when he climbs aboard Dream of Summer for trainer Juan J. Garcia. Dream of Summer will carry high weight of 122 pounds in the Gardenia, which is expected to get as many as 10 fillies and mares, including Halory Leigh (119), Miss Fortunate (118), Southern Surprise (117), and Tempus Fugit (117).

Favorites also loom large in the other three Saturday stakes.

Shaconage, a multiple graded winner on grass, is the most accomplished horse in the $100,000 Ellis Park Breeders' Cup Turf. Other probables for the race, run at 1 1/16 miles, include Miss Wellspring, Rue des Reves, Sheer Luck, and Tisket a Tasket.

Deputy G, winner of the Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs in his last start, should be the heaviest favorite of the pick four when part of a short field in the $75,000 James C. Ellis Juvenile. The filly counterpart to the Juvenile, the Anna M. Fisher Debutante, also has a standout in Swept Gold, whose presence is also limiting field size.

Jesus Castanon, the leading rider at Ellis, has the mount on both favorites in the 2-year-old races, both of which will be run at seven furlongs.

Entries for the Saturday stakes were scheduled to be drawn Thursday at a media luncheon at the track. This will be the first time Ellis has run as many as four stakes on one card.

Gate malfunction leads to no contest

Ellis refunded nearly $300,000 in wagers following the botched start that resulted in the fifth race being declared "no contest" Sunday.

A full field of 12 started in the six-furlong race, which began with race caller Luke Kruytbosch saying longshot Cobb County "broke like a shot." But there was a reason: The horse literally had a head start on the others. The inquiry sign was posted by the Ellis stewards before the race ended.

Chief steward John Veitch said that the gate essentially opened in several split-second stages and that there was no choice but to declare the race no contest.

The backup starting gate used for the rest of the Sunday card was still in use here Wednesday, even though Ellis officials said they could find no apparent cause for the malfunction in the main gate.

Butler returns to winner's circle

Veteran jockey Dean Butler on Sunday won a race for the first time since he was injured in a Feb. 18 spill at Turfway Park, and for the first time since he got married.

Butler, riding Valid Virtue in the seventh race here for trainer Steve Asmussen, was a winner with his eighth mount since his comeback from suffering multiple leg fractures. Butler, a Saratoga native who rode primarily in New Jersey before moving to Kentucky three years ago, said: "It was great to get back to the winner's circle - actually, it's great just to be back on a horse."

Butler took nearly six months to return from a fractured tibia and fibula, having incurred complications with the steel rod that was inserted to stabilize the injury. In the meantime, on June 20, he married his wife, Lee Ann, who is working at Saratoga as an assistant to Asmussen.

Incentives awarded to trainers

Five trainers were awarded $1,000 apiece following the first of two sessions in the incentive program that Ellis is offering for the most starts at the meet. The program divides trainers into five categories, which are determined by the number of stalls the trainer has at Ellis. The winners were Asmussen, David Pate, Bob Holthus, Kim Hammond, and Barbara McBride.

The same incentives apply for the second half of the meet, which ends Sept. 5. The first session ran July 13-Aug. 7.

New Polytrack to get a test race

Turfway has scheduled a mock race for Wednesday morning as a test of sorts for the new Polytrack surface that opened Aug. 3 at the Florence, Ky., track. Turfway president Bob Elliston gave the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority an update Monday on the new surface at the board's regularly scheduled meeting in Lexington. "I haven't heard a single negative complaint," Elliston said afterward.

* Ellis has been using a local celebrity as its race caller for one race each day this week. Calling Wednesday was Henderson's mayor, Henry Lackey; Thursday, local sportscaster Chris Goodman; and Friday, Churchill Downs vice president John Asher.