By Gene McLean
HENDERSON, KY (July 1, 2017) – Ellis Park, the little track by the Ohio River in West Kentucky, will begin its historic, iconic 95th racing season today and begins a special, 4-straight-day Fourth of July celebration party.
Churchill Downs concluded its’ 38-day meet with a special “Downs After Dark” program on Friday night, and it doesn’t take long before the party shifts here for Kentucky’s next stop on its Thoroughbred travelling show.
The first race of nine carded today will begin at 1:50 p.m. ET and 12:50 p.m. local time.
“For the first four days the entries went well, for sure,” said racing secretary Dan Bork. “Hopefully we can continue this and keep the momentum going the rest of the summer.
“Usually we’ll struggle a little bit at the beginning of the meet and at the end, coming off of Churchill or going into Churchill or Kentucky Downs. It will slow up. This year, there are more horses on the grounds and more people staying in the area. I think it’s going to help. When horses are on the grounds, you’re not shipping, but walking out of your stall to the paddock. And the money is better.”
Race entries for horses for the first four days of racing — with Ellis running every day from Saturday through Tuesday, July 4 — have been robust.
In past years, attracting full fields was a bit challenging the first couple of weeks, with the Ellis meet immediately following Churchill Downs’ spring meet and horses needing a break before racing again.
However, this year there are a number of new stables on the grounds at Ellis Park. And, those connections are wasting no time in making entries.
Saturday’s nine-race card produced 94 horses. On Sunday, 92 were entered for nine races. Monday’s special, eight-race program has 75 horses entered, and 84 more are ready to go in Tuesday’s nine races.
That averages out to 9.85 entries per race for the kickoff four-day run. And, it means a lot of betting options for local and off-track fans, alike.
Among those stabling at Ellis Park for the first time are trainers Ingrid Mason, Karl Broberg, Chris Davis and Chris Hartman, with Mike Maker having a full division here for the first time in several years.
Steve Asmussen, last year’s training champion who had Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee at Ellis all last summer, has two barns and entered five horses for opening day. That includes the intriguing Shakedown in the seventh race for 2-year-old maidens.
Average daily purses are scheduled at $210,000 a day, tops in track history and clipping last year’s mark just shy of $200,000. Maiden races will carry a record total of $40,000 each in purses for Kentucky-breds, the vast majority of horses racing.
The meet runs through Labor Day, with racing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, plus Monday July 3, Tuesday July 4 and Monday Sept. 4. The lone exception to Saturday racing is Sept. 2, which is opening day at Kentucky Downs. There is free admission and parking every day.
“I am really excited about this summer,” said Ellis Park president and majority owner Ron Geary. “I think everybody will be impressed with the new tote board and video board. That’s just the beginning. I think you are going to see the quality of horses continue to improve. I’m excited about all the new 2-year-olds that will come our way, just like we had such outstanding horses last year. It’s going to be a nice niche for Ellis Park to bring 2-year-olds to develop for outstanding times ahead.
“I expect to have really good crowds. We got rained on a little bit too much last year. But I think people will really want to come out this year no matter what, because there will be outstanding races, whether on a dry track, a sloppy track, on dirt or turf. It’s going to be a fun place to come.”
Fans will be greeted with a new infield LED video and Daktronics tote boards, replacing the structure struck by lightning last year.
Patrons can enjoy another betting experience with the track’s new historical horse racing machines, the innovative technology that marries pari-mutuel wagering with the flavor of electronic gaming based on the outcome of previously run races. Ellis this year switched its vendor to Exacta Systems.
“I can’t wait for everybody to come out and try out our machines,” Geary said. “We’re excited about the future there. A lot of our new purse money this year came from the growth of historical horse racing handle at Ellis Park, as well as from some assistance from the Kentucky HBPA and Kentucky Downs and its machines.”
Kentucky Downs, which has a strategic relationship with Ellis Park, transferred $1.65 million in purses and purse supplements for Kentucky-bred horses to Ellis in an agreement blessed by the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers at the commonwealth’s five thoroughbred tracks.