Five months after a tornado ripped through Ellis Park, efforts to repair and rebuild storm-battered areas of the track are making significant progress as the Henderson, Ky., track prepares to open its 83rd racing season on July 19.The track suffered heavy damage to its terrace grandstand, paddock, jockeys' quarters, racing office, infield tote board and barn area when the tornado roared through in the early morning hours of Nov. 6. But repairs are either underway or nearing completion on all of the areas that were hardest hit by the storm. "Repairs to the track are on schedule and are moving forward," said Brian Elmore, Ellis Park's new vice president and general manager. "I am honored to be part of a team of such dedicated employees who have worked so hard in rebuilding our historic track. We are looking forward to another summer of racing beginning July 19."On the front side of the facility, the roof of the racing office and second story of the jockey's quarters were destroyed in the storm, while the Sky Terrace suffered roof and water damage. The infield tote board and terrace grandstand was completely demolished. The main grandstand suffered only minor damage from the high winds.A new roof is already in place on the racing office and the rebuilding of the second floor of the jockeys' room is underway. Roof repairs have been completed in the Sky Terrace and interior repairs in that area are approximately 75% complete. An updated décor, new tables and chairs and an expanded buffet area will greet patrons of the Sky Terrace when it reopens for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6 – which coincides with the six-month anniversary of the tornado. The track lost 11 barns in the storm and 11 others were damaged. Four 48-stall barns are being constructed to replace the barns lost in the tornado, each of which contained 24 to 26 stalls. Repairs have been completed on all but one of the damaged barns. Ellis Park had 38 barns with approximately 1,100 stalls available in 2005. After construction and repairs are completed, the track will have 31 barns and nearly 1,000 stalls available for its 2006 meet. Repairs are also underway on a number of dormitories on the backside that were damaged in the storm.
The terrace grandstand has not been rebuilt, but that space will be occupied during Ellis Park's July 19-Sept. 5 meet by two 6,000-square-foot tents. A new building will house additional pari-mutuel windows and concession areas, and more than 500 temporary chair back seats will be added near the paddock to accompany the main grandstand's seating for 2,000.A new tote board will be installed in the infield, but two electronic message boards on either side of the tote board will not replaced. The track will instead install a 20-foot by 15-foot Sony Jumbotron video monitor that will allow fans to watch each of the day's races in their entirety for the first time in track history.The storm also damaged several portions of the main track's inner rail, so track officials decided to replace the entire inner rail rather than patch the damaged areas. That process was completed earlier this week and ongoing repairs to the outer railing should allow the track to reopen for training on June 1.There were no serious injuries among the track and stable employees on duty on the night of the storm at Ellis Park, but three Thoroughbreds lost their lives when the tornado slammed into the track. Simulcast operations at Ellis Park resumed on Nov. 16 – just 10 days after the storm – after minor damage to the track's clubhouse was repaired.