At Ellis Park, Link to Communities, Businesses Grows

With a successful spring meet at Churchill Downs in the books, the Kentucky racing scene shifts to Ellis Park July 9 with a focus on promotions and tie-ins with local communities and businesses.

Ellis Park, located in western Kentucky just south of Evansville, Ind., will race five days a week (Wednesdays through Sundays) through Labor Day, Sept. 1. Post time is 12:40 p.m. CDT. The grade III, $200,000 Gardenia Stakes for fillies and mares, featured event of the meet, is scheduled for Aug. 9.

Bobbleheads in the likeness of Thoroughbred owner Mike Pegram and jockey R.A. "Cowboy" Jones will be given away July 26 and Aug. 23, respectively. July 26 has been dubbed "Pegram Day," with each of the 10 races sponsored by various businesses.

General manager Paul Kuerzi said Cliff Guilliams, an Equibase chartcaller, racing columnist for the Evansville Courier & Press, and Ellis Park historian is responsible for lining up sponsors for various community days. There are days for taverns, law firms, and restaurant supply companies, Kuerzi said.

"We have more (groups) signed up right now for this meet than we did all of last year in total," Kuerzi said. "There might be 10 to 25 people in each group. It's good publicity for us and a day at the races for them."

For the first time, the Churchill Downs Inc. Twin Spires club card will be used at Ellis Park for a live meet. The frequent-patron card can be used as a lifetime admission pass at the Henderson, Ky., track.

On the racing side, Kuerzi said some overnight purses are up while others are down, but they appear higher this year compared with the first condition book of 2002. For the first book this year, maiden special weight events go for $27,000, and first-level allowance races for $30,000. The bottom purse--for $5,000 maiden claimers--is $6,000.

There will be four $100,000 stakes--the Don Bernhardt Memorial Stakes, up from $60,000; the HBPA Handicap; the Anna M. Fisher Debutante Stakes; and the James C. Ellis Juvenile Stakes. Three other stakes also will benefit from purse increases. Some Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund money carried over from 2002.

Last year was the third-hottest summer on record in the tri-state area (Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky). Still, attendance was up 3.1% for the Ellis Park meet.

"If we can get some normal temperatures, that has to help us," Kuerzi said.

Officials said 1,025 stalls were allotted for the meet. Trainer Bernie Flint, with 32 horses on the grounds, will attempt to win a sixth consecutive training title and 12th of his career.