(Ellis Park / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

About a year ago, the rumors began to fly about the possible sale of historic Ellis Park in rural West Kentucky. The little track by the muddy Ohio River was being offered up for purchase and there were said to be a number of possible suitors.

It didn’t take Churchill Downs long to turn a rumor into reality. And, the world’s most renown Thoroughbred racetrack operation had a new addition to his fold of racing venues.

Ever since, Churchill Downs executives have been working at a fever’s pitch to turn the “old” facility into a “new” one. While that endeavor may take more than a few months to finish and complete, there are obvious improvements to the racetrack and its’ infrastructure as the annual meet is rapidly approaching in July.

Here’s just a few of the things that have been attended to since the purchase last year:

New Director of Racing Operations: 

Recently, Ellis Park hired Erin McElwee to oversee all racing operations at the ole’ “Pea Patch.”

Previously, McElwee served as the Director of Facilities at Laurel / Pimlico. Now, she will bring her skills and talents to Henderson, KY. She is known for her high “energy level,” and, according to Churchill Downs’ executives, she will provide a new perspective and a fresh set of eyes to Ellis.

Purses Increased to $15 Million:

The purse structure for this year’s upcoming meet will be increased by nearly .50%. The plan is to pay $15 million this year — up from the $10 million that was offered just a year ago.

New G3 Stakes — the Pucker Up — Added to Calendar: 

The G3 Pucker Up Stakes, which was formerly held at old Arlington Park in Chicago, will now be switched to Ellis Park and will headline the “Kentucky Downs Preview” weekend card.

That weekend  will feature 7 turf stakes — all worth at least $200,000 each.

New Infield Video Board: 

The old, deteriorated and worn out infield video screen is now gone the way of the FAX machine. It’s missing. In its’ place is a brand new Video Screen that will help fans watch and enjoy the races in vivid color and stark contrast to the old images that used to flicker along.

Numerous Safety Improvements:

A vast number of safety-related improvements have already been completed to the facility. And, fans will enjoy a much cleaner and safe environment when visiting the track in person.

There will still be some locations on track that will be closed off to the general public while engineer and construction crews evaluate those areas for possible improvements and additional precautions.

Most areas have already been completed and are now ready for use.

Improved Water Quality Stations Throughout:

Much to the delight of many, the water stations throughout the entire facility have been improved, and the quality of the water that will be served from those pipes now greatly enhanced.

A year ago, there was video from the Jockey’s Quarters that showed that the quality of the water was not good and desperately needed to be addressed.

Immediately upon the purchase of the facility, Churchill Downs’ team members and others investigated the issues and quickly hired professionals to correct and resolve the issues.

Improvements Throughout the Backside Barn Area:

Since Ellis Park is now become a critical training facility throughout the year for many trainers, Churchill Downs recognized that the barn area needed immediate attention, as well.

Structural improvements have been made to a number of barns located in the stable area, and the conditions have been greatly improved.

And, Stay Tuned…There’s More to Come:

Going into this July, that may be the highlight list of improvements made to date. But to paraphrase what Bugs Bunny always says at the end of every show:

“That’s not all folks…”

More improvements are sure to come.