As expected, and as first reported by “The Pressbox” back on March 13, 2019, Ellis Park has been sold.
Just about a year ago — in a desperation move to restore financial stablity to the small, county-fair like racetrack in Henderson, KY. — the Kentucky Racing Commission moved quickly to approve the full sale of Ellis Park from former owner Ron Geary to minority partner and ally — the Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group.
Ever since that acquisition was completed, though, speculation began immediately and has been rampant on how long the Saratoga gaming company would hold onto the Kentucky property before it flipped the enterprise to a new entity.
“The Pressbox” learned of serious discussions involving the Laguna Development Company — from Pueblo, New Mexico — and the Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group in early March, and we first reported serious discussions on March 13.
Over the past couple of months, those preliminary discussions became much more serious. And, on Tuesday, the Laguna Development Company — who has created the Ellis Park Entertainment, LLC and is led by a group of managers — gave a full report to the Kentucky Racing Commission on the possible sale, which is expected to close before the end of June.
Ken Mimmack, one of four board managers for Ellis Entertainment, outlined a 3-Phase development and restoration project to re-build and help re-create Ellis Park. The total investment, if all three phases are concluded, is expected to total more than $60 million in investment over the next three to five years.
Upon hearting the proposal and presentation, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the transfer of the Ellis Park license to conduct both live racing and Historical Racing Machines — conditional on the close of the real property, and final resolution of the contract between the Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group and the new Kentucky business entity.
That transfer is expected before the upcoming Ellis Park meet begins on June 30.
“We have 700,000 people a fairly short distance away from Ellis Park,” Mimmack said. “We just think upgrading the facility will help. Right now, people don’t even think we have a real racetrack facility. Most people in the area think that the place is closed. But it’s (Ellis Park) important racing, important to the Kentucky circuit. So we’re going to use that as best we can.
“We are just proud to be part of the greatest racing in the country.”
To date, the Laguna Development Company does not have any racetrack properties in the country, and have never been associated with operating a Thoroughbred racing venue before. Laguna Development operates three casinos in New Mexico, and a number of travel centers and restaurant venues. According to Mimmack and others associated with the company, the New Mexico-based outfit has been aggressively looking for expansion opportunities all over the United States.
In order to help make the transition into the racetrack world, Mimmack and the Laguna company will be retaining a number of the current track managers and advisors that are familiar with the current operation, property and the business of conducting live Thoroughbred racing.
Jeff Hall, the current general manager, and Dan Bork, the current director of racing and racing secretary, will both keep their jobs and responsibilities. In addition, the new group will be retaining the services of Doug Reed, the former director of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program, to help advise the new management group.
Daniel Gerrity, president of Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group, will also stay on board for the upcoming meet to help with the transition.
“We are both honored and excited for the opportunity to purchase Ellis Park, one of Kentucky’s oldest and most revered racetracks,” said Kevin Greer, managing partner for Ellis Entertainment. “We appreciate the knowledge and support the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has provided us while we prepare to restore Ellis Park to its rightful place as one of the Bluegrass State’s premier racing facilities.”
The new ownership group has already spent an estimated $2 to $3 million on upgrading the existing facility, both on the front side grandstand area and in the barn areas, where some old facilities were in desperate need of repair and total removal. Over 100 loads of new top soil have been added to the racetrack surface, as well.
The second phase of the redevelopment is scheduled to begin soon after the upcoming meet concludes on Labor Day weekend. That is supposed to include the addition of new lights that will enable night racing, and reconstruction of the current grass course to allow for a wider course, and more entries.
A new facility to host the Historical Racing Machine venue is scheduled to be built and ready for opening in November of 2020.
If there first two phases of the redevelopment are successful in creating more and new business, the new group has pledged to look into a Phase 3 of operation. That could include the construction of a new hotel on the property and other amenities.
“Ellis Entertainment brings a vastly experienced group of professionals to this project who will work alongside the track’s current management team to ensure our guests have a first-class experience,” Greer said. “We will follow our parent companies’ longstanding and highly successful commitment to quality, service, and value. We look forward to being productive and engaged members of the local business community.”