Is summer Thoroughbred racing in Kentucky dead for this year?
As of the morning of July 3, that appeared to be the case, given Ellis Park owner Ron Geary’s announcement the western Kentucky track would not hold the 44-day meet set to begin July 4.
In a July 3 statement, the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which is at odds with Geary over a revenue formula for account wagering, said it has asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority to intervene in the dispute.
“Early this morning, the Kentucky HBPA will be communicating with the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority in an effort to have them intervene on behalf of horsemen and everyone who will be affected by the loss of Ellis Park,” the statement said. “In addition, we will use our best efforts to communicate with Ellis Park to arrive at a reasonable solution and to salvage the race meeting at Ellis Park.”
KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood couldn’t be immediately reached for comment July 3 on the Ellis Park meet or contingency plans, though the KHRA issued a statement later in the day saying it is "disappointed" the meet wouldn't be held.
The Churchill Downs spring meet ends July 6. Churchill officials and Kentucky horsemen are involved in the same account wagering dispute that led to a 20% reduction in purses and could carry over to other meets in the state this year. Observers said it's doubtful Churchill would want to extend its meet given the current economic climate brought on by the horsemen's dispute.A spokesman for parent company Churchill Downs Inc. said the company was still trying to assess its options.
"We are waiting for the dust to settle," said Kevin Flanery, a CDI senior vice president. "It's been less than 24 hours, and we are still trying to determine how this impacts not only Ellis Park and Churchill Downs, but other entities in the state as well."
Turfway Park isn’t scheduled to open until Sept. 3. Whether the Northern Kentucky track is an option to add dates should the Ellis Park meet not be held remains to be seen; a shift of racing dates would need regulatory approval.
“Neither party has contacted me at this point,” Turfway president Bob Elliston said July 3. “I would have to get a lot of questions answered before we could make that determination—legal questions, purse questions, horsemen’s questions. Assuming those questions were answered, one of the benefits of the investments that we have made in our surface is that we can get up and running without much difficulty.”
Turfway, which has a synthetic Polytrack surface, is open year-round for training.
The Ellis Park closure comes as Indiana Downs in neighboring Indiana is wrapping up its Thoroughbred meet as well. Many horses that race there move on to Ellis Park. Hoosier Park in Indiana doesn’t begin its Thoroughbred meet until late August.
If by chance Turfway were to add dates, racing would go up against River Downs, located 20 minutes from Turfway in neighboring Ohio. Turfway has lights and would have the option of racing at night; River Downs races in the afternoon. Also, the horse population at the two tracks overlaps.
One horseman who is based in Kentucky told The Blood-Horse night racing in the summer at Turfway wouldn’t be a stretch if that becomes an option, given the shorter shipping time from other tracks and training centers and cooler temperatures in the evening.
Officials at Presque Isle Downs near Erie, Pa., reported the morning of July 3 the track received about 200 stall applications after horsemen received word Ellis Park wouldn't race this summer. Presque Isle has been open for live racing since early May.
If there is no summer racing in Kentucky, other tracks that would benefit from new stock would be River Downs; Arlington Park and Fairmount Park in Illinois; Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia; and Pinnacle Race Course, the new Michigan track set to open July 18.(Ryan Conley contributed to this article)