Miguel Mena won three races on the opening day card at Ellis Park, capped by Dixiana Farm's 4-year-old filly Brie's Lucky Charm taking the nightcap, a $50,000 maiden special race on turf. Mena, who missed last year's meet while recovering from heel and ankle fractures resulting from a spill in mid-March at the Fair Grounds, also won the second race on Iron Horse Racing's Randy Morse-trained El Venue and the fifth on the 2-year-old second-time starter Johnny Unleashed.
“It was a good day,” Mena said. “We came into today with a lot of live mounts for good people. We just happened to be lucky to start off this way. It's very exciting. You see a lot people here. Something feels different about this place this year. I don't know if it's the money or the new horses coming in. But it feels good. A lot of people are happy to be here and looking forward to it.”
Johnny Unleashed drawing off to a 7 3/4-length victory over Money for Mischief brought raucous cheering on the rail, with scores of people swarming into the winner's circle. Johnny Unleashed is trained by Owensboro's Eric Foster, with the gelding co-owned by the trainer's wife Brooklyn, Lonnie Reynolds and Chris Phelps and Joseph Mills.
“This was awesome, this winner's circle,” Eric Foster said. “It's all friends, friends of the owners, it was just exciting… We always get a big crowd. But with him having four owners, and popular owners, a lot of people were able to make it today. Everybody is from Owensboro.”
Johnny Unleashed — a son of Colonel John out of the More Than Ready mare Ready to Unleash — had run once before, finished second at Keeneland after leading most of the way. “I had expected him to run well,” Eric Foster said. “I was just trying to do my best to make sure I didn't mess him up. He's just natural, so let him go: Johnny Unleashed.”
Ken Mimmack, head of project development for Ellis Entertainment LLC, the Laguna Development Corporation subsidiary that is the new owner of Ellis Park: “The atmosphere here is fantastic. This is our first opportunity to be here for an opening day, and we are so excited. We get to see the crowd, and see the way Henderson has come to support this meet. Couldn't be happier. We're excited to be part of Kentucky racing, and that's why we're here.”
Ellis Park general manager Jeff Hall: “It's electric, one of the best opening days I'd say in many, many years. The excitement around here with what LDC and Saratoga (the previous owner who is managing this meet) have done in the past couple of months, everybody is totally excited about it. The fan support is unbelievable. This is just the start of it. We have the very best jockey colony we've ever had here. We've got close to 500 horses already on the grounds and we're looking for probably another 150-200 horses here. It doesn't get any better.”
Racing secretary Dan Bork: “Opening day we have our usual summer heat here, and the crowd turned out to be great. It's a hat giveaway day and the racing is going to be excellent this year. No question about it, we're going to have our strongest meet ever. The jockey colony is the strongest in history. The money we're giving away is going to be drawing some of the best races we've ever had here. I look forward to seeing a lot of superstars running and a lot of potential superstars. We've got a strong 2-year-old program with a lot of maiden races. You can expect to see a lot of up-and-coming stars for the next couple of years.
“Everybody does look forward to opening day, whether it's horse racing, baseball, anything. So yeah, it does set the tone. We're looking forward to the summer. It's only 29 days and it will be lots of fun.”
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