07/29/2004 11:00PM

Small-time invaders strike at Ellis


LEXINGTON, Ky. - At most racing venues on the Kentucky circuit, horses from minor tracks are overlooked more often than not. But that hasn't been the case at Ellis. In fact, bettors have done a surprisingly good job of handicapping many of these shippers.

Consider these examples: Pentelic had finished fourth as a 30-1 longshot in a $20,000 maiden claiming race in her debut at Fair Meadows Tulsa. She shipped to Ellis, dropped to run for $8,000 on July 22, and demolished her field in a 15 1/4-length score. She paid a modest $5.

Reddick had finished second in three straight conditioned $4,000 races at Indiana Downs. He shipped to Ellis, stepped up to an open $4,000 race July 23, and won by 2 1/4 lengths. He returned $6.60 as the favorite.

Kissin It Away had won once at Hoosier and three times at Fairmount Park in her last four starts. She came to Ellis, and on July 24 dropped from $10,000 optional claiming races into an open $10,000 claiming race. But the field at Ellis included five opponents who had been among the first four finishers in recent races at Churchill. She drew off to win by three lengths as the 11-10 favorite.

Too Clever had finished last of six as an 18-1 longshot in a $10,000 claiming race at Delaware on July 4. Three weeks later she dipped down to $8,000 and dominated four opponents at Ellis in an 8 1/2-length victory. Bettors who anticipated this turnaround collected $7.

The longest-priced winner who last raced at a minor track during this four-day period was the easiest to spot on class. May Gator had finished third, beaten by just three-quarters of a length, in the $75,000 Firecracker Handicap at Mountaineer. He dropped into a $40,000 handicap at Ellis on July 25 and won by a half-length at $8.

Is Bejarano underachieving?

Rafael Bejarano has won with 25 percent of his mounts and owns a large lead in the Ellis jockey standings, with 33 wins vs. 19 for John McKee in second. Clearly, Bejarano has no serious competition from the other jockeys at that track. The more interesting comparisons are Bejarano at Ellis vs. Bejarano at Churchill and Bejarano at Turfway.

At Churchill, against a much stronger jockey colony, Bejarano won 19 percent of his races, with a 417-81-71-54 record. Although he won the jockey title, he did not always have his choice of mounts there the way he does at Turfway and Ellis, so his winners paid enough to show a slight flat-bet profit at $2.04 for every $2 bet on him.

At Turfway, Bejarano was absolutely dominant, with a 137-46-26-20 record at the Holiday meet for a remarkable 33 percent win rate. He was overwhelmingly popular there, and his mounts were routinely hammered down to low odds, so it is ultra-impressive that he performed so well that his fans nearly broke even with a $1.99 return on investment.

At Ellis, Bejarano's record is 130-33-40-13 through July 29. I don't mean to nit pick, but a closer look at those numbers suggests that his performance at the two other tracks was better. Note that he shows more second-place finishes than wins at Ellis, which was not the case at Churchill or Turfway. Also, if he could win with 19 percent of his mounts while competing against Pat Day and the other tough competition at Churchill, shouldn't his win percentage be more than six points higher on the move to Ellis? A check of the bottom line shows that he is not yet living up to the high standards he set at the two other meets. Bejarano's ROI at Ellis is an uncharacteristically low $1.57.

Handicappers searching for betting value at Ellis should consider jockey Jesus Castanon as an alternative. He is third in the standings with an 82-15-8-11 record, for an 18-percent win rate and a $2.57 ROI.