07/01/2007 11:00PM

Solid numbers all around

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Ever since he won his first race way back in 1980 at Del Mar with To B. or Not in the Carlsbad Stakes, Ron Ellis has been a fixture among the elite trainers out West, buoyed annually by a high win percentage. So, when the 47-year-old won just three races at this past Santa Anita winter-spring meet, some eyebrows arched.

“I was loaded with maidens and horses that I didn’t run on the dirt there,” he said.

But everything is right in the Ellis world now. In a sensational start to the Hollywood Park meet, he won with 13 of his first 37 starters, for a 35 percent win rate, through last weekend.

Ellis has maintained marvelous numbers throughout his career in most categories since he broke into the game. He’s also shown the ability to handle world-class horses. He guided Declan’s Moon to an unbeaten 2-year-old season in 2004, including taking the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity, which led to the juvenile championship. He deftly handled two of the better females in the game over the last 20 years – multiple Grade 1 winners Exotic Wood and Twice the Vice. They showed their wares not only in Southern California but around the country, with Twice the Vice winning Oaklawn’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom and Exotic Wood taking the Grade 1 Go for Wand at Saratoga. He even caught Derby fever a few years ago as Atswhatimtalknbout was a strong second, beaten a nose, in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. He rallied for fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

Declan’s Moon hasn’t been able to fulfill his early promise, as injury cost him his 3-year-old season, and the likes of Exotic Wood and Twice the Vice don’t come around too often. That does not mean, however, the top shelf of the Ellis cupboard is bare.

He has top handicap horse Buzzards Bay leading the charge. The 5-year-old, who last year won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap by over six lengths, came back this spring after an ankle injury forced him to the bench. He’s come back stronger and sounder, Ellis said, and that notion was validated by an impressive win in the Grade 2 Californian last month. He had to miss the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, however. “He came out of the Californian a little stiff in his back, and I haven’t worked him since,” said Ellis. “I don’t want to push him right now. We’ll point him to the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. That gives us a little more time and shortens him up a little bit.” The Grade 2 San Diego is at 1?1/16 miles July 21.

Despite having such a classy horse in the barn, his bread and butter remains the daily maiden, claiming and allowance races. Ellis remains powerful up and down the class levels. He strikes at 22 percent in maiden claimers, 26 percent in straight maidens, 23 percent in claimers, 27 percent in stakes, and 38 percent in graded stakes. The only blip on the screen comes with his 9 percent rate in allowance races. He’s strong regardless of trip (22 percent in sprints; 18 percent in routes). And, surface doesn’t really matter either (21 percent on dirt; 11 percent on turf).

Ellis has never been one to hammer down on his horses in the a.m. If they work fast, it usually means they did it on their own. Don’t take that to mean he’s easy on them, or that they don’t have enough bottom when they do show up. He hits at a strong 27 percent first time out.

His eye and handicapping ability are well known, too, with a win percentage of 24 first time off a claim.