Two weeks before the 29-day Ellis Park meet begins July 4, horsemen are expressing concerns about the condition of the main track and some, including prominent conditioner Larry Jones, have decided not to race at the Henderson, Ky., track.
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said June 20 the Ellis Park dirt track has an inordinate amount of rock in it that track maintenance crews have been unable to remove. Maline said it is not unusual for Ellis Park and many other tracks to have to remove some rock from the dirt and sand that make up the surface, but that the machinery used for that purpose is usually able to satisfactorily do the job.
Jones, a Henderson resident who was planning to have 50 head stabled at Ellis Park, said some of his horses have been at the track for 30 days but he has yet to work any of them because of the track condition. Now, Jones said, he will base his stable at the Churchill Downs Training Center in Louisville, Ky., and race them at Indiana Downs and Arlington Park.
"I have not felt comfortable breezing the first horse over the track," Jones said June 20. "We are pulling all of the horses out of there. Fortunately, I only had 13 there so far, so there aren't many that I have to move.
"They know they've got a problem. Apparently they can't fix it. But I've got to fix it for me (by racing elsewhere)."
Tim Glyshaw, who tied Mike Maker for the leading trainer title at Ellis Park in 2012, said he was already not planning to stable there this year because he was basing his operation at Indiana Downs. However, Glyshaw, who resides in nearby Evansville, Ind., said he was expecting to have some horses ship to Ellis Park to race.
Glyshaw said he has not seen the Ellis Park track but based on the reports he has gotten from other trainers, his plans to race any horses there this year are on hold.
"We were going to run fewer there this year, but there were still going to be good number of horses run at Ellis," Glyshaw said. "But we're going to take a wait-and-see stance now. We don't have a big enough stable that we can replace a horse that gets a stone bruise or something. It can happen on any track, but this would increase the chances."
Ellis Park general manager Bob Jackson said the main track will be closed for training June 23-24 so rock-screening equipment can be used to extricate as much of the rock as possible. He said the equipment being brought in for the process is the same machinery that removed a large amount of nails, bolts, and other debris that littered the track following a tornado in 2005.
Jackson said Ellis Park put extra material on the track over the winter, as it does every four or five years, but the source of that material this time around contained a larger than usual amount of rock. Then, due to an inordinate amount of rain this spring, track maintenance had been hampered in efforts to work the track sufficiently to get the rock out.
Ellis Park personnel have been working on the track daily, Jackson said.
Track president Ron Geary said the surface has consistently been among the safest in the state, and that he is confident the problem will be fixed by opening day.
"I am a horse owner myself ,and I don't want to run my horses over a track that has any kind of potential problems," Geary said. "By blocking it off this weekend, I am comfortable and satisfied we will have it in as good of shape as we always do, and everybody will feel comfortable about running their horses there."
Though Jones has not been comfortable training on the main track at Ellis Park, Jackson said there are about 200 horses stabled at the track, and on some days there have been 20-30 recorded works.
"We plan on having a safe track when we open July 4," Jackson said. "I hate to hear that Larry is not coming, and we will do everything we can to get the racetrack to where he will want to come back."
Maline said he has received recent reports from Ellis Park trainers that the situation has improved.
"I'm hoping from the indications I am getting from different horsemen there that they are getting on it," he said. "They've got two weeks to get it right."