Training Resumes at Ellis Park
Photo: Tom LaMarra
Ellis Park

Training resumed at Ellis Park the morning of June 26 as management at the Henderson, Ky., racetrack continued to deal with an inordinate amount of rock in the main dirt track surface leading up to the July 4 opening day.

Ellis Park, the only Kentucky Thoroughbred track conducting live racing during July and August, was closed for training June 23-25 as track maintenance personnel continued an effort to get the rocks out of the dirt and sand surface. The problem, first reported by BloodHorse.com, traces back to last fall when a large amount of dirt was brought in to replenish the racing surface, which is done routinely every four or five years.

In addition to the interruption in training as efforts continued to remove the rock, some trainers, including Henderson resident Larry Jones, have indicated they do not plan to race at Ellis Park this year. Jones removed any horses he had at Ellis Park and is basing his operation at the Churchill Downs Training Center in Louisville, Ky., with plans to race at tracks in Indiana and Illinois.

Other trainers told BloodHorse.com they plan to race fewer horses at Ellis Park this year due to the condition of the track, and others said they are waiting to see if the problems are corrected before committing to the meet.

According to the Henderson Gleaner, the dirt used on the track came from a supplier who excavated the soil from the Horseshoe Bend river bottoms. Horsemen told the Gleaner there not only was a larger than usual amount of rock–mostly about the size of a quarter in diameter–but the material included bottle caps and chunks of blacktop.

Track maintenance personnel and operators of equipment brought in from other locations worked diligently June 22-23 to screen the dirt in an effort to remove the rock. But after a torrential downpour June 24, pieces of stone were still visible, according to the Gleaner.

Ellis Park should consider moving all the dirt to the perimeter of the track and then meticulously sift the soil to remove all rock, said Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Maline, who has been at Ellis Park to monitor the situation, said more would be known about the track condition following June 26 training hours.

Ellis Park general manager Bob Jackson and track president Ron Geary told BloodHorse.com they are confident the track surface will be suitable and safe for racing by July 4.

Jackson told the Gleaner some of the material picked up by the rock-screening machines being used on the track was not rock, but clods of dirt.

"Probably 50% (of what the rock-screening machine removed) was big dirt clods, called 'gumbo,' that looked like rock" but posed no hazard to horses, Jackson told the newspaper.

Entries will be taken June 29 for the opening-day card.

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