Ellis Park: Five-Day Week, Commitment from CDI

Ellis Park is expected to return to a five-day live racing week next year on the heels of a 2004 meet that produced an increase in total handle but double-digit decreases in average daily handle and on-track business.

The western Kentucky racetrack raced 54 days this year, up from 41 in 2003. Total wagering was $163,901,499, up from $151,093,146. But daily average handle came in at $3,053,213, down 17.6% from $3,685,199 last year.

On-track handle, which includes wagers on imported signals, totaled $14,909,702, up from $14,399,550. The average of $273,545, however, was down 22.1% from $351,209 in 2003.

Attendance also took a hit. The average crowd of 2,540 this year was down 15.5% from 3,006 last year.

"We anticipated a challenging meet, and our move to a six-day racing schedule was designed to improve business levels and help counter competitive challenges such as casino competition in our home market and the strain on horse supply caused by the lure of higher, slots-fed purses in other racing states," Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs and Churchill Downs Inc.'s Kentucky operation, said in a release. "While we paid more in total purses by offering a sixth day of racing, the extra day contributed to a decline in field sizes."

Average number of starters per race was 8 this year, compared with 9.11 in 2003. Purses totaled $8,571,400, up 12.4%, but average daily purses fell 14.7% to $158,730 from $186,012.

The meet, held in the prime months of July and August, was plagued by short fields, even in lower-level races. Early in the meet, CDI announced a purse cut and plans to scrap three late-season stakes, but the events were restored and actually drew good-sized fields.

CDI also owns and operates Arlington Park, the Illinois track that competes with Ellis Park for horses.

The meet was watched closely horsemen who believed the six-day week would spell trouble for the horse population and on-track business. For the first time in many years, on-track handle on the live product dipped below $100,000 on several racing days.

As usual, the community-oriented track did very well on promotional days tied to local towns and organizations. The meet ended on a high note Sept. 6 with attendance of 4,849, the second largest of the session.

"As we look ahead to 2005, we plan to move back to the five-day race week and continue our company-wide focus on strengthening our racing product and the on-track customer experience," Sexton said. "Ellis Park remains a vital part of Churchill Downs Inc. and the Kentucky racing circuit, and we will do everything possible in the coming months to ensure the track and its loyal patrons enjoy a strong and entertaining race meet in 2005 and beyond."