07/17/2006 12:00AM

Churchill sells Ellis to Kentucky executive


Churchill Downs Inc. has reached an agreement to sell Ellis Park in Kentucky to Ron Geary, a retired Louisville businessman, who will take over immediate management of the facility, the two parties announced Monday, two days before Ellis opens its summer meet.

Geary, who retired on June 22 as the chief executive officer of ResCare, a Louisville-based company that provides services to people with disabilities, was approved as the manager of Ellis Park at a Kentucky Horse Racing Authority meeting on Monday.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, and officials of Churchill declined to comment on specifics of the transaction after the authority's meeting. In a release, Churchill said that the sale was "not material to CDI's results of operations."

Churchill has been attempting to sell Ellis Park for several years, citing its struggle to turn a profit with the track. Churchill purchased Ellis, which sits in Henderson, Ky., just south of Evansville, Ind., in 1998 for $22 million, but has taken $10.7 million in writedowns against the property's value since then.

Mike Miller, the executive vice president of Churchill Downs, said on Monday that the transaction is expected to close in September, after Ellis closes its 36-day meet. Geary will be Ellis's only owner after the deal is complete, Miller said.

For the past several years, tracks in Kentucky have been seeking legislative approval for slot machines. Miller said that as part of the agreement to sell Ellis, Churchill would be able to "invest in a partnership" with Geary should slot machines be approved, but he declined to be more specific.

Geary, who served four years in the cabinet of former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown as secretary of revenue, said he is an "occasional handicapper" who goes to the races once or twice a year, normally to Churchill during Derby Week. He said he owns several racemares, and was hoping to meet with horsemen, fans, and people in the Henderson community over the next several days to familiarize himself with the meet.

"The vision, for me, at Ellis Park, is long-term," Geary said. "We're making a long-term commitment to the track."

As part of the agreement, Ellis Park and Churchill will each ask the racing authority for permission to run next year over the July 4 holiday weekend, and will run coordinated racing programs if approved, Geary and Miller said.