Ellis Park, the western Kentucky racetrack that’s on the fence for 2010, reported healthy gains in on-track business but a big drop in total handle after 20 days were cut from its 2009 meet.
With requests for 2010 racing dates due Sept. 15 or Oct. 1, depending on action by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, the clock is ticking. Ellis Park owner Ron Geary still hasn’t said whether he plans to apply for dates.
For the 28-day meet that ended Sept. 7, Ellis Park reported average daily attendance of 3,698, up 22.4% from 3,022 in 2008, when a 39-day meet was held. Average daily on-track handle was $205,646, up 16.7% from $176,197 last year.
Because of expected competition for racehorses, Ellis Park received KHRC approval to reduce its 2009 meet to 23 days from 48. A few weeks into the meet, however, track owner Ron Geary requested to add five Fridays, bringing the meet total to 28 racing days.
The 2008 meet also was reduced because of a conflict between management and horsemen early in the session.
All-sources handle in 2009 was $46,674,643, down 40.3% from $78,229,999 last year, according to figures provided by the track. Average daily total handle was $1,666,952 this year versus $2,005,897 in 2008.
The number of races dropped from 392 last year to 254 this year, but average field size went from 7.6 last year to 9.2 this year. Ellis Park carded four or five turf races per program, and most stayed on the grass.
“Because of overlapping race dates in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, among others, coupled with slots or casino-enhanced purses in 2009, Ellis Park had to be creative to compete,” Geary said in a meet-ending statement. “Our racing secretary, Dan Bork, really stepped up and worked hard to keep us competitive.”
About 6,000 fans were on hand at Ellis Park Aug. 22 for a Kentucky Equine Education Project-sponsored rally designed to win support for video lottery terminals at racetracks. Ellis Park throughout the meet solicited support for ongoing legislative efforts.
Crowds of 4,000-7,000 aren't uncommon at Ellis Park, which has promotions tied to specific communities in the area.
“I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our local and regional fans,” Geary said. “So many folks have been calling Kentucky legislators urging them to rethink adding VLTs to the racetracks. They have been coming to Ellis Park for many, many years and are begging me to find ways to keep the track going.
“We continue to lose significant money, but because of the loyalty of the fans and my passion for Thoroughbred racing, I will continue to assist KEEP and the overall pursuit to strengthen the Kentucky equine industry.”
Elvie Cobb and Carl Short tied for leading owner with five wins each. William “Buff” Bradley took the training title with 11 victories, while Jon Court, who returned to Kentucky from California earlier this year, won the riding title with 33 wins.