According to multiple sources close to the situation, and contacted throughout the day on Thursday afternoon, Ellis Park — the rustic, county-fair like, rural Thoroughbred racetrack located in little Henderson, Ky. — may be in the process of being sold to another owner, and that the final documents could be finalized in the very near future.
“The Pressbox” has learned that the possible new owner, and/or owners, is reportedly from out of state and that before any ownership package can be approved, completed, and the transfer of ownership is finalized, the new owner(s) will have to submit an application to and be approved by the Kentucky Racing Commission.
It is not known at this time just who the potential new ownership team is, but that the transfer of the license, real property and other amenities connected to the operation of the Ellis Park racetrack and meet could imminent, if the final negotiations are concluded between the parties. Supposedly, those negotiations are on-going at this time. While the deal has not been finalized as of yet, according to our sources, the discussions have reached the “serious, and final stages.”
Efforts to reach Ron Geary, the current owner of the racetrack, were not successful. Multiple phone calls were not returned. But according to our sources, the new ownership team may be based out of New Mexico.
It is also not known if this newest and latest development will have any immediate impact on the current live race meet, while the fluid situation is being negotiated, and, possibly, finalized. Ellis Park is scheduled to resume racing on Friday, July 13 and race through this Sunday, July 15.
One prominent Kentucky owner, who races at Ellis Park on a regular basis and is aware of the transfer of the purse money from Kentucky Downs to Ellis Park for the purse supplements, was contacted earlier today and asked about the sale rumors. When assured that their name would not be disclosed, the owner stated:
“It is true.”
Ellis Park, which is currently racing its’ live meet Friday through Sunday, and will conduct Kentucky’s only live Thoroughbred racing through Labor Day, on Monday, Sept. 3, was originally built by the Green River Jockey Club in 1922. It initially held a harness race meeting on the Grand Circuit for a total of $32,000 in purses for a five-day race meeting. On Nov. 22, 1922, a 10-day Thoroughbred meet with purses of $62,000 was first conducted and held. The meet, at that time, was a prep for the winter racing at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
In 1925, the Green River Jockey Club went bankrupt, and it was then that James C. Ellis purchased the racetrack, which was known then as Dade Park. He made many changes to the track operation at that time, including constructing the first tote board to announce the wagering system, and a terrace grandstand. The facility was renamed Ellis Park in 1954. Two years later, James Ellis died.
After that, the track management was led by Ellis’ nephew, Lester E. Yeager. Under his leadership, a new paddock and jockey’s quarters were constructed, in addition to a new clubhouse and stable areas. In the mid 1960s, the track was turned over to Ruth Adkins.
Since then, the racetrack has exchanged hands and ownership reins on several occasions. The track and all facilities were sold in 1985 to Roger and Lila Kumar. The Kumars sold the track to the Racing Corporation of American in 1989, who, in turn, sold the track to Churchill Downs, Inc. in 1998.
After the track sustained serious damage when a tornado ripped through the area on Nov. 6, 2005, many speculated that the historic property may never return to an operating racetrack. But on July 17, 2006, the current ownership team — led by Ron Geary from Louisville — purchased the track from Churchill Downs for what then was estimated to be in the neighborhood for $5 to $7 million.
Ron Geary, who made his fortune in the health care management business and has been a Thoroughbred owner and enthusiast for many years, is credited with “saving” Ellis Park, and many advocates both inside the industry and in the Henderson community have lauded the efforts of the Louisville businessman to keep the track alive, operational, and on-going.
However, there have been other tense times in the past, as well.
In 2008, Geary announced that he was going to close the racetrack after a federal judge denied an injunction against the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association in an on-going dispute over simulcast revenues. But just three days after that announcement, an agreement was reached to keep the track alive.
In March of 2009, Geary notified the Kentucky Racing Commission that he will have a reduced racing schedule and planned to close the track the following year, citing a lack of purse money compared to other tracks.
But neighboring Kentucky Downs — located in nearby Franklin, KY. — offered to send to its fellow Western Kentucky racetrack several million dollars, which were to be utilized for purses and to support several key Stakes races. Those efforts, led by Kentucky Downs’ ownership team and the KY HBPA, kept the racetrack’s purse allotment competitive with other racing venues, yet again, and many thought would help the track prosper by attracting many horsemen to stay and race in Kentucky.
Earlier this year, it was announced — once again — that Kentucky Downs and the HBPA would be shifting millions of dollars in purse money to help supplement and promote the racing product at the Henderson track.
But, according to some of our sources, even those monumental efforts to pump purse money into the track’s purse accounts has apparently not been enough to help the current racetrack management team to fully off-set the administrative, and operational costs associated with keeping the racetrack open.
Now, apparently, the racetrack may be close to exchanging hands yet again. Stay tuned for further developments.