08/09/2007 12:00AM

Governor's field greater than its purse


With a modest purse of $50,000, Saturday's Governor's Handicap at Ellis Park would have a right to consist mostly of allowance horses. But a challenging stakes race it is, with half of the field of 12 already being stakes winners.

Notable starters include Red Raymond, a graded-stakes-placed colt that won the James C. Ellis Juvenile in 2005; Spellbinder, winner of the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap in 2006; defending champion Junior College, who finished third in the Don Bernhardt Stakes at Ellis in his last start July 21; and Istan, winner of the $100,000 Artax Stakes at Gulfstream Park in April.

Istan, a 5-year-old trained by Bill Mott, should relish being dropped in class to race in the Governor's. Since taking the Artax Stakes April 7 - and earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure - he finished fourth in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap May 5 and sixth in the Grade 2 Tom Fool Stakes at Belmont Park July 4.

Although the Governor's is a quality race, it does not have near the quality of the latter two races.

Spellbinder adds intrigue to the Governor's Handicap. A two-time graded stakes winner last year, he finished third in his most recent start June 2 when racing in the Jim Rasmussen Memorial Stakes at Prairie Meadows. Contesting the pace from start, he weakened in the final furlong, losing by 3 3/4 lengths to Patriot Act.

Even in defeat, he earned a lofty 99 Beyer, his best since posting a 104 in a runner-up finish in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park last May.

Dylan Williams rides Spellbinder, the starting highweight at 121 pounds.

Junior College lacks the extensive graded stakes experience of Istan and Spellbinder, but still is a contender. He loves the Ellis Park main track, having won two stakes at Ellis last year, the Governor's Handicap and the Don Bernhardt.

He has remained in top form in 2007, although he did fade to third in July 21 Don Bernhardt as the favorite. He won the Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn in March and upset Rush Bay in an allowance on turf at Churchill Downs in May.

He should show speed on the stretchout from the 6 1/2-furlong Bernhardt to the one-mile Governor's. Larry Melancon rides Junior College for trainer Tony Reinstedler.