07/09/2003 12:00AM

Tips to make Ellis less confusing


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's a challenge to handicap Ellis Park because horses come to this meet from all over the country. During the first two days of entries, horses were scheduled to race at Ellis Park after having last competed at River Downs, Arlington, Fairmount Park, Indiana Downs, Hoosier Park, Churchill Downs, Prairie Meadows, Manor Downs, and Saratoga.

This causes quite a handicapping puzzle. Because so many are coming from different locations, head-to-head match-ups often cannot be viewed as a measuring stick. Even traditional class handicapping is difficult. Do you take the horse who was dusted a year ago at Saratoga, or the Prairie Meadows invader who is fit and lost his last race by five lengths?

Quandaries like these make Ellis an interesting meet, if only because it is not the same old thing. Sure, the quality of racing drops off considerably from Churchill Downs, but judging from the first couple days of the meet, the racing should be competitive with full fields.

In researching the Ellis Park meet, I found a few interesting statistical nuggets. Obviously, it is reasonable to expect horses who last raced at Churchill to fare best at Ellis. That is a given. They have been facing better opposition and are fit.

Some of these horses are significantly overbet, however. Consider trainer Bill Mott's statistics at Ellis Park over the past three summer meets. He ran 59 horses during that stretch, winning 15 races (25 percent) and hitting the board with 30 starters (51 percent).

They were viewed by the betting public as such standouts, however, that even with a 25 percent success rate, the $2 return on investment on these Ellis runners was $1.39.

Other Churchill-based trainers also won at a high rate. Bernie Flint led the standings last year with a 26-for-75 record, and was followed by son Steve Flint (10 for 22), Tom Amoss (9 for 21), Ken McPeek (8 for 40), and Dale Romans (8 for 31).

Players in search of more value at Ellis may wish to settle on horses shipping into Kentucky. Larry Jones, whose stable races at Prairie Meadows in the spring, has recorded strong meets at Ellis over the past three seasons. He is 16-9-1 in 54 starts at Ellis since the summer of 2000, and was 7 for 12 last year.

He has quality stock, with stakes horses such as Don't Countess Out, Strodes Commander, Endless Honour, Ruby's Reception, and Elusive Sara among his best runners.

With so many low-level claiming races carded at Ellis, Fairmount Park shippers sometimes merit consideration as longshot plays. Kelly Ackerman runs horses at tracks from Fairmount to Churchill, and his stable does well at Ellis. He is 9 for 48 (19 percent, $2.02 ROI) at Ellis since 2000. Fairmount trainers Steve Manley and Leroy Hellman also have good Ellis records. Manley is 10 for his last 71 (14 percent) at Ellis with a $1.98 ROI, and Leroy Hellman is 2-2-1 from 6 starts over that same period with a $3.27 ROI.

In terms of riders, Jon Court has been the dominant force, winning five straight riding titles. This year he faces opposition from John McKee, among others.

Keep an eye on jockey Rafael Bejarano. He rode a number of longshot winners during the Churchill meet, and has Steve Elzey as his agent. Elzey was the agent for Willie Martinez, Kris Prather, and Jason Lumpkins during their most successful periods in Kentucky, and his riders have a history of excelling when jockeys such as Pat Day, Shane Sellers, and Robby Albarado are not riding in Kentucky.