Kentucky Horsemen Question Ellis Park Purse Cut

The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has taken issue with an Ellis Park purse reduction that has put the minimum purse to near $5,000 for the first time in recent memory at any Thoroughbred racetrack in Kentucky.

Ellis Park, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., announced the 15% purse cut effective Aug. 10. Track general manager Paul Kuerzi said field size, weather conditions, and competition for horses led to a decline in handle.

"The decision to reduce purses for the remaining weeks of the Ellis Park meet is disappointing, but it was a move that had to be made in light of business levels," Kuerzi said.

The meet at the Henderson, Ky., track began with a purse overpayment of $550,000, or about $150,000 more than figures maintained by the Kentucky HBPA. Horsemen said the contract between them and Ellis Park allows for recovery of only $400,000 without Kentucky HBPA approval.

CDI is seeking a zero balance in the purse account by the end of the Ellis Park meet Sept. 5. The company had hoped for improved business levels this year, but after about a month, they hadn't materialized.

On Aug. 11, the purse for a $5,000 maiden-claiming test was $5,100, the lowest in Kentucky since Bluegrass Downs, a bull ring in Paducah, dropped Thoroughbred racing about eight years ago. The Ellis Park purse is only $400 higher than the purse for the same class at River Downs in Ohio.

"We are not agreeing on what is the overpayment," Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline said. "I'm just afraid our entries will be terribly depleted. The guys (who train in Louisville) are incensed about this and said they're not going to run horses under that scenario."

Maline said on-track attendance and handle are holding their own at Ellis Park, but in-state wagering on the product is "deplorable," particularly at Churchill Downs, which moved its simulcast operation in house from the Trackside Training Center in Louisville. "It used to be the best outlet in the state of Kentucky," he said.

The Kentucky HBPA plans to send CDI president and chief executive officer Tom Meeker a letter explaining its position and requesting an explanation on the need for a zero balance in the purse account at the end of the meet. Maline said the organization might request that "horsemen who suffered this year" be reimbursed prior to next year's meet.

Last year, Ellis Park raced six days a week and had problems with its horse supply. This year, it cut back to five days a week, but business hasn't recovered.

"Hopefully by next year, purses will be better," Maline said. "They definitely will if we get out of this meet with a zero balance in the purse account. That just means we'll have (more revenue from off-season simulcasts) for next year."