Tornado damage to part of the grandstand and other track facilities suffered at Ellis Park over the weekend.

Tornado damage to part of the grandstand and other track facilities suffered at Ellis Park over the weekend.

Brian Howard

Ellis Park Damage Assessed; Trainers Ponder Options

Insurance adjusters were at Ellis Park Nov. 7 assessing the damage wrought by a tornado that struck the western Kentucky racetrack early in the morning the previous day.

Three horses were killed and several others were injured, according to reports from track owner Churchill Downs Inc. and the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. There was no loss of human life at the track, though the storm claimed 22 lives in nearby Indiana.

Two of the three horses fatally injured in the storm were owned and trained by Burl McBride, who also trains the two Thoroughbreds now being treated for serious injuries. The McBride-trained horses killed in the tornado were a 2-year-old filly and a 2-year-old gelding. The third horse that died was a 3-year-old gelding owned by Fred Nelson and trained by Nelson's wife, Mary.

There were almost 160 horses stabled at the track when the tornado hit.

"Our teams continue to assess the damage caused to Ellis Park by the tornado and insurance adjusters were on hand to begin their job of assessing and recording the damage," Churchill president Steve Sexton said. "It's a big job given the scope of the damage. We remain thankful that there were no major injuries among people working at the track and that the toll on the equine population has remained low."

Ellis Park ended its live meet Labor Day. Its year-round simulcasting program has been suspended indefinitely.

Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline was on the scene the morning of Nov. 7. He said it appeared about 10 barns were totally destroyed, while others sustained some structural damage. The HBPA, he said, put up 28 backstretch workers in a local hotel because they had no electricity or running water.

Maline said veterinarians were at Ellis Park treating horses, some of which were hurt when they got loose and ran through debris that littered the barn area and racing surface.

"It's amazing," Maline said. "Some of the guys were right in the middle (of the tornado's path), but their horses were unscathed. A lot of the horses stayed in their stalls, and when the walls collapsed around them, they were huddled in the middle of something like a tent."

Ellis Park serves as a year-round training center; as of Nov. 7, about 120 horses remained on the grounds. Maline said some horses would go to a nearby training facility, some trainers have requested stalls at Turfway Park, and Keeneland has offered some stalls at its Thoroughbred Center in Lexington.

CDI plans to get the Ellis Park simulcasting program back in operation as soon as possible. Maline said he was waiting to hear from CDI as to its plans for rebuilding damaged facilities.

CDI attempted to reduce racing dates at Ellis Park from 41 this year to 29 in 2006 and cut back to four days a week from five, but the Kentucky HBPA balked. The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority Oct. 31 approved a compromise--36 days, with racing five days a week, from July 19-Sept. 4.

When asked if he thought the facility could be ready to go by next year, Maline said: "I think they could get it done. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out."

In late August, Hurricane Katrina damaged CDI-owned Fair Grounds, which is closed indefinitely. In late October, Hurricane Wilma struck CDI-owned Calder Race Course, which lost several racing days and suffered barn damage.