'Pea Patch' Sprouts With Full Fields

Competition abounds, but when Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., opens Wednesday, the fields will be full. The Churchill Downs-owned facility occupies the Kentucky racing calendar through Labor Day.

Churchill also owns Arlington Park, the Chicago-area track that's set to begin its summer festival, complete with padded purses. The 10-race opener at Ellis puts the emphasis on claiming races, which are the track's bread and butter.

The 78th season of racing at the western Kentucky track known as the "Pea Patch" because of the soybeans planted in the infield features a renovated clubhouse, an upgraded picnic area, expanded seating at the outdoor bar atop the grandstand, and more televisions in the Sky Terrace restaurant. The improvements cost about $500,000, officials said.

Post time Wednesday through Sunday is 12:40 p.m. (CDT) for the 41-day meet.

"We'd naturally like to have more than our 41 allotted days of live racing," track general manager Paul Kuerzi said in release. "But during the time before we close, we plan on combining the excitement generated by horses competing with the fun people have in the stands while eating, drinking, watching, and wagering."

On opening day, 103 horses are scheduled to compete for an average of more than 10 a race. The featured allowance event, with a purse of $31,500, lured a field of six headed by several stakes winners.

The meets at Ellis and Turfway Park generally cater to horsemen who call Kentucky home year-round. Combined, the tracks occupy more than six months of the Kentucky racing calendar.