Ellis Park Opens
The summer meeting at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky kicked off on July 2, and runs through August 30. The “Pea Patch” will play host to eight stakes this season, with the topper being the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby on August 9. The 2020 Road to the Kentucky Derby challenge series contest will reward the top four finishers with qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 basis towards entry into the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Jockeys to Watch
The race for the top pilot came down to the wire in 2019, with James Graham narrowly winning with 26 tallies. Tyler Baze and Corey Lanerie finished just behind the winner with 25 victories apiece.
A pair of successful veteran jockeys, Rafael Bejarano and Joe Talamo, will take up shop in the Bluegrass State this summer, and each is more than capable of challenging for the riding title. Another to keep an eye on is Florent Geroux, who booted home 11 winners from a limited number of runners last campaign.
Trainers to Watch
Steve Asmussen has come out on top of the trainers’ race in three of the past four years and Hall of Famer is aiming for another title at Ellis Park. Brad Cox saddled 18 winners in 2019 at a high 30 percent win rate, and his stable continues to prosper.
Dale Romans has long succeeded at the Pea Patch and will surely be sending out numerous horses. He won at a strong 26 percent clip last summer. Al Stall Jr. said he will have more horses competing at Ellis Park this season, and the well-regarded horseman always saddles live runners.
Early speed was fairly dominant in sprint contests in 2019, with horses leading at every call in 39% of the 6-furlong dashes. I expect more of the same this year.
Route races on the main oval also played well to early types, who clicked at a 26% wire-to-wire rate going long on the dirt.
Sprints on the lawn played heavily to those who were swiftest early last season. The leader at the first call stayed in front through the wire at an excellent 41 win rate.
The opposite could be said when going long on the green, as only 15 percent of horses led in wire-to-wire fashion in turf routes.
I feel that post positions play a major role in determining who comes out victorious at the Pea Patch. Horses traveling 5 panels on the main oval have a very short run into the turn, so a smart break from the gate is vital. The same can be said for mile dirt events, where being hung wide into the first turn could cost a contender a chance at winning.
Turf races at a mile have a similar quick run into the initial turn, while getting off to a good start in turf sprints is often a prerequisite to having a chance when turning for home, as well.
Races at 6 furlongs on the dirt, as well as turf events at 1 1/16 miles, put less emphasis on post positions and alert starts.