Friday, July 9, 2010

Do me a favor: Head on out to Ellis

I'm in the wrong Henderson.

The 87th season of racing opens Saturday at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. And here I am in Henderson, N.C., 692.7 miles away according to the "new"


I made my first -- and, so far, only -- visit to Ellis Park last August, on my way home from moving my daughter to Saint Louis. It was a sweltering day, and I wish it hadn't ended so soon. I didn't have great luck at the window (though I did hit a 10-cent super that covered most of my losses).

But I loved the atmosphere of the historic venue (complete with "1937 Flood Mark" on the second floor, pictured), the super-friendly staff, the other fans who ranged in age from weanling to ol' gray mare, reasonably priced concessions, the bean field in the infield, and of course, pretty decent racing.

Ellis was modeled after the famed Saratoga Race Course, right down to a chute (like Saratoga used to have), built at a right angle to the home stretch and tying into the main course at the apex of the first turn. Ellis Park's two chutes permit seven-furlong and one-mile races on the nine-furlong dirt track. The one-mile Ellis Park turf course was opened in 1993, and makes for some good grass racing as the horses blow by the beans that lie just beyond the inside rail.

The venue has also been endorsed by horseplayers as a good track to bet. In April, the Horseplayers Association of North America rated Ellis No. 6 among all North American tracks (that's 69, if you're counting) for its attractiveness to gamblers. The rankings are based on an algorithm conceived by HANA board member Bill Weaver, a retired engineer, with tracks rewarded for providing value to horseplayers through low takeouts, strong field size, offering a variety of wagers, good pool size and widespread simulcasting signal.

So if you're within driving distance of Henderson, Ky., tomorrow, I urge you to visit Ellis on opening day. The high is supposed to top out at "only" 90, with little or no chance of rain, so it'll be a great day to catch some rays on the apron.

While you're there, bet the 7 in Race 4, especially if you're still getting the morning line of 6/1 or better.

I'll be generous and we'll go 50/50 on the winnings.

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