Lookin at Lee, runner-up in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, winning the 2016 Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes – Coady Photography
Ellis Park Press Release: Ellis Park begins its 95th racing season Saturday, and expectations are to surpass last year’s well-received meet that earned high marks even while enduring record rainfall.
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 could be 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, reflecting the new stables on the grounds at Ellis Park, Saturday’s nine-race card produced 94 horses; 92 for Sunday’s nine races; 75 for Monday’s special eight-race program and 84 for Tuesday’s nine races — averaging 9.85 entries per race for the kickoff four-day run.
Among those stabling at Ellis Park for the first time are 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.
“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, this 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.”
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.
Fans will be greeted with a new infield LED video and Daktronics tote boards replacing the structure struck by lightning last year. Also new are 121 Sportech mutuel machines to make it easier and faster to place bets. The technology upgrades extend to the backstretch, where state-of-the-art security cameras have been installed at the entry gate.
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. First post is 12:50 p.m. Central, with 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.”
Ellis Park’s 2-year-old program remains a hallmark, one no longer under that national radar after last summer alone producing the runners-up in the Kentucky Derby (Lookin At Lee), Kentucky Oaks (Daddys Lil Darling) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Not This Time), along with the winner of Keeneland’s Stonestreet Lexington (Senior Investment, the Preakness third-place finisher).
“With the purses even better, you’re going to see even better bloodlines with the 2-year-olds,” said 2016 Ellis riding champion Corey Lanerie. “I think you’ll see a Derby winner coming out of Ellis Park soon.”
Albaugh Family Stables, which campaigned last year’s 10-length Ellis maiden winner Not This Time, is among those targeting the track for its babies, including the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile (won last year by Lookin At Lee). That race is Sunday, Aug. 20, a card that also will feature the $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante, the 2-year-old filly counterpart that had been on hiatus since 2008.
The Albaugh stable has run three 2-year-old colts at Churchill Downs, with Dak Attack and Free Drop Billy winning their debuts June 15 and Hollywood Star also prevailing first time out on Wednesday. All three are trained by Dale Romans. Jason Loutsch, Albaugh racing manager and co-owner, said one of the three definitely will be pointed toward the Ellis Park Juvenile and that they still have a pair of 2-year-olds that will begin their careers at Ellis in the next 30 or 40 days.
“We’ll have a lot of activity going on at Ellis, and possibly with some of the older horses, too,” Loutsch said. “We’re excited. It’s a great place to start your horses, and it’s a great place to run your horses. Obviously the last couple of years we’ve done that, and it’s work out well — and gotten us to our goal of getting to the Kentucky Derby.”
Loutsch said the only problem is that so many people now have the same idea.
“I told Dale, ‘You let the cat out of the bag. You told too many people that this is the plan, that you get a good start,” he said cheerfully. “… You’re trying to get them confidence, let them figure out what they’re doing. It’s an opportunity for them to get experience, and if they win, great. More importantly, you want to see them progress and gain some confidence.”
One person who can’t wait for opening day is Gary McIntyre, a sales rep from Owensboro.
“With the increase in purses, this meet will produce great racing and, like last year, some young horses to follow the rest of this year and into the classic races next year,” McIntyre predicted. “It will be an exciting meet.”
Also on a Sunday will be the $100,000 Groupie Doll, Ellis Park’s signature race for fillies and mares carrying Grade 3 status, and the $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Memorial on turf. Those stakes will be Aug. 13, moved off of Saturday in order to give maximum exposure in the simulcast market, to avoid conflicts for jockeys riding in stakes-laden cards elsewhere in the region and to let the large Sunday crowds enjoy the meet’s most important races.
Ellis Park welcomes a new analyst in Joe Kristufek, who also is the paddock host at Churchill Downs and Kentucky Downs and who will make Ellis’ morning line. Kristufek, one of the sport’s leaders in fan education, will join track announcer Jimmy McNerney at the free handicapping seminars every Saturday, starting July 8. Kristufek and McNerney will give their picks out from 10:30-11 a.m. Central in the first floor of the clubhouse.
Ellis Park will have at least one promotion every day, including July 8, where jockeys square off in the popular ostrich and camel races, and the wiener dog races on Aug. 5 and 12 for qualifiers and the Aug. 26 championship.
Every Sunday is Value Day, with patrons enjoying discounted beer ($2 for 16-ounce draft), hotdogs and sodas ($1.25) and peanuts and chips ($1). After the races on Sundays, kids can line up on the track for a foot race over Kentucky’s second-oldest, with only Churchill Downs older than Ellis Park.
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.
Ellis Park meet at a glance
Location: 3300 US-41 North, Henderson KY. (812) 425-1456
Live racing dates: Saturday, July 1-Sept. 4 (Labor Day), Fridays through Sundays, plus Monday July 3, Tuesday July 4 and Monday Sept. 4. No racing Saturday, Sept. 2.
Post time: 12:50 p.m. CT/1:50 p.m. ET. Gates open 10 a.m. CT.
General admission: Free. Reserved seating in Sky Theatre, Clubhouse and Turf Club additional. Grandstand box ($16 for six seats). Season tables available in Turf Club, Sky Theatre and Clubhouse.
Dining reservations: (under 10 people): (812) 435-8918 or email@example.com. Group sales (more than 10): (812) 435-8905 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parking: Free; valet available
Multi-horse wager minimums: 10-cent superfecta; 50-cent trifecta, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5; $1 exacta, Super High Five.
Stakes: Saturday, July 8 — $50,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, 1 1/16 miles on turf. Saturday, July 22 — $50,000 Don Bernhardt, 3-year-olds & up, 6 1/2 furlongs. Sunday, Aug. 13 — $100,000 Groupie Doll (G3), fillies & mares 3 years old & up, mile; $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Handicap, 3 years old & up, 1 1/16 miles on turf. Sunday, Aug. 20 — $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile, 2-year-olds, 7 furlongs; $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante, 2-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs.
Simulcasting: Betting on horse racing around the country seven days a week.
Historical Horse Racing gaming: Offered seven days a week, these state-of-the-art machines are electronic pari-mutuel systems that allow players to bet on previously-run horse races with the fun and flash of video gaming.
Weekly promotions: Fridays: Meet the Announcer – fans chosen by drawing get a chance to meet Jimmy McNerney and see how he prepares for and calls a race. Saturdays: Free handicapping seminar (starts July 8) with McNerney and analyst Joe Kristufek, 10:30-11 a.m. CT in clubhouse; Making of a Racehorse fan-education experience, starting date TBA, 7:30 a.m. CT in clubhouse parking lot by starting gate near first turn’s mile chute; Junior Jockey (starts July 8) — kids are chosen to be part of the activity for a race, including the paddock and winner’s circle. Sundays: Value Days, with discounts on beer, hotdogs, sodas etc.; Kids Race on Track – kids let loose with their own races through the stretch after the last horse race.
Non-horse races (no betting!): Saturday, July 8: Camel and Ostrich races (with jockeys); wiener dog races: qualifiers Saturdays Aug. 5, 12. Finals Aug. 26.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to sign up for email newsletters and special offers from The Turf Board!