Ellis Park 2-year-olds showcased at Belmont Park

Ellis Park 2-year-olds showcased at Belmont Park

Bill Stephens, Web Editor

June 7th, 2017


Lookin At Lee, Senior Investment carry banner into Triple Crown finale;
Astoria-bound Waki Patriot highlights locals’ improving stock

HENDERSON, Ky. (Wednesday, June 7, 2017) — Pea Patch to Big Apple: Ellis Park’s burgeoning 2-year-old program will be on display this week in New York.

Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee and Preakness third-place finisher Senior Investment are among the twelve 3-year-olds expected to be entered Wednesday in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Lookin At Lee won an Ellis maiden race in his second start and the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile in his third.

Senior Investment lost his first two starts at Ellis Park, including once to eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Not This Time. This year Senior Investment won allowance races at the Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park before taking Keeneland’s Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes to earn his Preakness berth.

In fact, only Churchill Downs was a more productive 2-year-old launching pad to this Belmont field. Three horses in the 1 1/2-mile classic made their first and/or second start last year at the Louisville track, with Lookin At Lee debuting there. Ellis Park, nicknamed the Pea Patch for its soybean infield, joins the vaunted 2-year-old programs of Keeneland and Saratoga with two Belmont Stakes horses having run at those tracks either in their debut or subsequent start. Belmont Park, the Triple Crown finale’s host track, and stalwarts such as Santa Anita and Del Mar are represented by a single horse.

“The Belmont is high-profile proof of what our Kentucky horsemen know and others increasingly appreciate: Ellis Park is a great and cost-effective place to develop a promising 2-year-old,” said racing secretary Dan Bork.

Ellis Park’s 95th summer meet doesn’t begin until July 1. But Waki Patriot will carry the track’s banner in Thursday’s $150,000 Astoria for 2-year-old fillies. Waki Patriot is trained by third-generation Ellis Park horseman John Hancock and co-owned by his wife, Donna, and their longtime partner Charles Brown.

After finishing second in her debut against boys in a field of 11, Waki Patriot beat up on fillies for a five-length victory, one of Hancock’s five wins at Keeneland’s spring meet. Two days before the Kentucky Derby, she took fourth in the $100,000 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs, again against colts, losing by 2 1/4 lengths while having a considerably troubled trip.

“Waki Patriot … was laying on the pontoon in the starting gate and got away bad and then kind of got in trouble around the turn and bounced off the fence,” John Hancock said. “But she came flying down the lane. Corey (Lanerie) said he thought he was on way the best horse if he hadn’t gotten in so much trouble. You have to give (her) a shot.”

Hancock also finished second in the Kentucky Juvenile with Amberspatriot, who will be pointed toward the Churchill Downs’ June 30 Debutante. But his real objective with at least one of them — or possibly another filly yet to be unveiled — is the re-instated $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante on Aug. 20.

“That’s our goal, to race a couple of these nice fillies here,” Hancock said. “They are those kind of fillies that I can walk over in the afternoon at Ellis Park and have my family here like other people do at Keeneland and Churchill and not worry about where I’m going to finish. Because the others have them to beat.”

While Hancock has sold horses that went on to race and win in New York — including Belmont’s 2015 Tremont winner Cocked and Loaded — he’s never had a starter of his own race there. But he believes Ellis-connected 2-year-olds will only become more frequent in prominent races.

Hancock, who is on the board of the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association that represents owners and trainers in the commonwealth, would be as thrilled for his hometown track as for himself and his family should Waki Patriot win the Astoria.

“I think it would bring more local people in the game,” he said. “The horsemen here at Ellis Park the last two or three years have really stepped up. People kind of overlook them, but they’ve seen the future in younger and better horses and adjusted. This summer, there will be a lot of people with young horses who want to test their horses and their skills against the best. And I think some of the best will be here.”

Waki Patriot and Amberspatriot went as unsold by breeder Brandywine Farm of Paris, Ky., after Waki’s top bid was $1,200 and Ambers’ $1,300 at Keeneland’s September yearling auction. Hancock acquired them and two other yearlings for a negligible amount.

“The myth’s out there that you have to be a doctor, lawyer or oilman or very rich person to be in this business,” Hancock said. “If you get hooked up with the right people and are in it for the right reasons, you can get in it for the enjoyment for a very reasonable amount of money. Here are two fillies that you couldn’t ask for any more than what they’ve given.”

Photos (from top to bottom): Lookin At Lee working at Belmont Park June 4 for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (credit Coglianese Photography); Waki Patriot, part of trainer John Hancock’s Ellis Park stable, runs in Thursday’s Astoria in New York (credit Jennie Rees).

About Ellis Park

Built by the Green River Jockey Club as Dade Park in 1922, Ellis Park is located in Henderson just south of Evansville, Ind., on the only sliver of Kentucky north of the Ohio River. The track was renamed Ellis Park in 1954 for long-time owner James C. Ellis, who bought Dade Park out of bankruptcy in its early years. The second-oldest racetrack in Kentucky behind Churchill Downs, Ellis Park has withstood the devastating Ohio River flooding in 1937 and a horrific tornado in 2005. The track was purchased in 2006 from Churchill Downs Inc. by prominent Kentucky entrepreneur Ron Geary. The 2017 live race meet runs July 1-Labor Day, Fridays through Sundays, plus July 3 and 4th and Sept. 4, with no racing Saturday, Sept. 2. Admission and parking are free. Betting on Historical Horse Racing terminals that provide different interactive gaming options is offered seven days a week, as is simulcast wagering on racetracks across the country.

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