08/15/2007 11:00PM

High Heels taking shot at elders

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HENDERSON, Ky. - Although there is no shortage of stakes races in North America restricted to 3-year-old fillies, trainer Gary Hartlage is bucking conventional wisdom by running High Heels against older fillies and mares in the Gardenia Handicap at Ellis Park on Saturday.

High Heels was good enough to finish third behind the powerful Todd Pletcher duo of Rags to Riches and Octave in a field of 14 3-year-old fillies in the May 4 Kentucky Oaks, and although she has disappointed in two subsequent efforts, High Heels should be good enough to win Saturday "if she's back to being right," said Hartlage.

"This race is close to home, it's on dirt, and it's worth $150,000," said Hartlage. "Plus last summer she ran second in a stake" - the Fisher Debutante at Ellis - "when she was still a maiden. That's enough reasons for me."

In her first race after the Oaks, High Heels, bred and owned by Anita Ebert, finished seventh on the Churchill Downs turf in the June 16 Regret Stakes. She then ran a dull fifth in the July 14 Delaware Oaks, after which Hartlage, who is based at Churchill, said the filly returned with a bruised hoof, a minor injury that has since been resolved.

"She black-lettered here Tuesday," he said, referring to a bullet five-furlong drill at Churchill Downs in 1:01. "She's all cured up. She sure wasn't herself at Delaware."

Hartlage is well aware that he wouldn't have to run High Heels against her elders at least for the next couple of months or so, but he did not want to ship her to Saratoga or another faraway destination for her next start.

"I don't want to have any excuses, and I didn't want shipping to be a problem," he said. "We got the 12 hole, but that doesn't bother me, because she won't have to stand in there long, and she's kind of fidgety anyway. I just thought this would be a good spot to get her back to herself. If we can go down there Saturday and beat older fillies, that'd just be another plus for her. Who knows what can happen after that."

Maggie Slew to try again

Maggie Slew, the last foal sired by the great Seattle Slew, is back in the Gardenia after finishing second last year to favored Prospective Saint. A 4-year-old filly bred and owned by Swifty Farms, Maggie Slew enters off a 2 1/4-length victory in a July 1 allowance at Churchill, her first race since Pat Byrne assumed her training.

"You've got to like the way she did that," said Byrne, who previously trained the multiple stakes winner Pass Rush for Swifty. "She's trained forwardly since then. I expect a good effort Saturday. It would be great to make her a graded stakes winner because that would seriously increase her value."

Pick four handle levels off

After attracting a meet-high handle of $86,376 from all wagering sources on Claiming Crown Day, Aug. 4, the Ellis pick four has leveled off, with a steady per-day handle of just over $30,000 during the week of Aug. 8 through 12. Complete data on the pick four is available at ellisparkracing.com.

The Ellis pick four has attracted national attention because its takeout is a mere 4 percent, which yields payoffs more than 20 percent larger than what otherwise would be returned with the normal 22 percent take. The pick four is held daily on the last four races, and that will be the case again Saturday, even though the "Big Four" stakes are carded as races 8 through 11 on a 12-race card.

Jones rides again, in a fashion

Ellis honored R.A. "Cowboy" Jones after the first race Wednesday by allowing the 64-year-old jockey to ride to the winner's circle on horseback, then dismount to begin signing photographs in the grandstand for a smattering of fans in attendance.

Jones, who said he has suffered more than 50 broken bones in a riding career that dates to 1959, was unable to get a license from the Ellis stewards last summer because he was recovering from a collarbone injury, making his retirement imminent. He recently was licensed to ride again, however, and he is hoping to secure at least one mount before the Ellis meet ends Sept. 3.