The future of Ellis Park beyond this year is questionable, but it appears the Henderson, Ky., racetrack’s current meet has a good chance of being expanded.
Several factors—healthy business, full fields, and the expected interest in horsemen from Illinois—led Ellis Park owner Ron Geary to request five dates dates be added to the track’s scheduled 23-day meet. Earlier this year, Ellis Park received Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approval to reduce the 2009 meet from 48 days because of anticipated competition from Indiana tracks and a shortage of horses at other Kentucky meets. At its regular meeting Aug. 4, the commission will consider Ellis' request for adding five dates to the current reduced schedule.
Ellis Park concluded another successful weekend of racing July 25-26 with good on-track crowds and racing that has been higher in quality than expected. The shorter meet allowed the track to increase purses, and horsemen have responded.
For the first 10 days of the meet through July 26, Ellis Park has averaged 9.45 horses per race, up from 7.61 for a 39-day meet in 2008, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. Purses this year have averaged $144,115 per day, up from $134,235 last year. Both purse figures include Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements for Kentucky-bred horses in maiden special weight and allowance events.
“This meet of just 23 days has been very good so far,” Geary said July 25. “We’re surprised about some of the aspects, but Kentucky horsemen have been loyal sending horses in (to race). The tri-state racing fans love Ellis Park and have been supporting us big time.”
The weekend of July 18-19, crowds topped 7,200 and 5,000, respectively. Ellis Park doesn't release pari-mutuel handle, but Geary said handle is up this year on a "race-by-race basis."
Geary and the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association met before the start of the July 25 program to discuss adding Friday racing in August.
If Ellis Park adds Fridays, it would race three days per week instead of two in August. A three-day weekend is scheduled for Labor Day weekend, when the track closes in early September.
Geary said Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Indiana will open for Thoroughbred racing July 30 with daily purses of about $150,000 a day—less than anticipated. Also, Fairmount Park in neighboring Illinois will close a month early in mid-August, making horses available to run at Ellis Park.
Another factor is Ellis Park has a turf course, but Hoosier Park does not. Ellis Park has been carding four or five turf races a day, and Geary said he believes the course can accommodate that through the summer.
Requests for 2010 dates are due to the KHRC Oct. 1. Geary said it’s too soon to say whether he’ll apply for dates; he earlier said the western Kentucky facility would close without alternative gaming.
“We don’t know at this point what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’re looking at the whole spectrum.”
Meanwhile, horsemen and Turfway Park, which opens after the Ellis Park meet ends, are discussing how to handle dates, purses, and stakes for the upcoming meet. Turfway, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary—it opened as Latonia Race Course in 1959—plans various events to mark the occasion.
A July 21 release indicated Turfway will race its full complement of dates—Sept. 9-Oct. 8 on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule. The stakes schedule, however, could be altered pending purse negotiations.
As of July 25, the Kentucky Cup was still on for Sept. 26. The series features the grade II Classic, and grade III Distaff and Sprint. There has been talk purses could be adjusted or some of the races spread out over the course of the meet.
The grade III Turfway Park Championship, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race at 1 1/2 miles on Polytrack, is slated for Sept. 12, the first Saturday of the meet.