Ellis Park purses receive boost, Juvenile revived
Ellis Park president Ron Geary, well-versed as a horse player and handicapper, is betting that this summer will be his best meet since buying the track nestled on the Ohio River in 2006.
In fact, by featuring enhanced purses for horsemen, restoration of a two-year-old stakes and continued player-focused emphasis, Geary expects the 30-date session that runs July 2-September 5 to be the strongest in more than 20 years.
"We'll have one of the best meets we've ever had," Geary said. "We had almost 8.3 horses per race last year, and we think we'll have an opportunity to improve on that this year. The momentum has been building for this for several months and now it's looking like reality, which is extremely exciting."
Thanks to burgeoning business with its Instant Racing pari-mutuel games and a $1.35 million contribution by Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park's races will offer purses averaging $210,000 a day for its 30-date summer meet, Geary said. That's up from $155,000 a year ago at the 1 1/8-mile track nicknamed "the Pea Patch" because of its signature soybeans growing in the infield.
"I'm incredibly pumped about our upcoming meet -- it will be outstanding," said racing secretary Dan Bork. "I think we'll have a great number of quality horses running here. More people are interested in running with us than ever before, and our jockey colony shapes up as its strongest ever. With Ellis becoming stronger in the summer, it also helps the whole circuit."
Maiden races for Kentucky-bred horseswill have pots of $38,000 -- up $9,000 from last year, while allowance races will range from $39,000 to $42,000, including the supplements from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund for horses born and sired in the commonwealth.
"Those numbers are going to make me seriously consider whether it's worth going to Saratoga or Del Mar," said Louisville-based trainer Dale Romans, whose two-time Grade 1 winner Brody's Cause first raced at Ellis Park. "I just hope more people don't start staying behind and it gets tougher to break a maiden at Ellis. I mean, Brody did get beat at Ellis.
"A lot of horses get beat in two-year-old races and go on to be top horses. It's the time of year for two-year-olds to get started, seems the most productive. And it's a good safe racetrack to get started on. With this kind of money, I'll definitely leave more horses in Kentucky this summer."
The stakes schedule is highlighted by the $100,000 Groupie Doll for fillies and mares at a mile. The Grade 3 stakes was renamed for the 2012-2013 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and two-time Eclipse Award champion who raced three times at the track, including victory in the 2011 stakes and third in 2013 when it was known as the Gardenia. Also on that August 6 card is the return of the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile over seven furlongs.
Instant Racing wagering at Ellis set a record each of the past three months, including April's $7.17 million, according to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission statistics.
"The last couple of years now, we've started to have very significant growth, about 50 percent a year," Geary said. "Every dollar that's bet on Instant Racing, a portion goes to the purse fund. The pari-mutuel taxes on Instant Racing contribute to getting extra money to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. Between those, it's really done well."
As part of the tracks' strengthening relationship, Kentucky Downs is marketing and distributing Ellis' simulcast signal nationally. The all-grass track in Franklin, which pioneered pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing in the commonwealth, also is transferring $1.35 million to Ellis for purses to help build the circuit -- an arrangement endorsed by the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, the group representing the state's owners and trainers.