07/14/2010 5:28PM

Ellis hangs on by offering slimmed down meet


Change and survive. That’s the mode Ellis Park continues to find itself in, with the 2010 summer meet starting Saturday amid the familiar call for alternative gaming and a pared-down racing schedule.

Ellis will race just 27 days on a Friday-through-Sunday schedule, and there are only four stakes on the docket, led by the lone graded race of the meet, the Grade 3, $100,000 Gardenia on Aug. 14. The abbreviated schedule is a sign of the times and one of the unwanted alterations often cited by track owner Ron Geary in his frequent pleas for slots at Kentucky racetracks.

Modeled loosely on Saratoga when built in 1922 in Henderson, Ky., Ellis is a throwback to simpler times, when patrons whiled away their lazy summer days by watching lower-rank Thoroughbreds race near the northern banks of the Ohio River. Six days a week once was the norm, but last year, amid dire warnings that he might be shuttering the track, Geary scaled back to 28 days.

That tenuous status quo holds true this summer, and employees such as Dan Bork, who is in his fourth year as Ellis racing secretary, are trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

“This is a great track,” said Bork, who in April completed his first season in the same capacity at the prestigious Gulfstream Park meet. “We’ve got our own niche here, and the racing here really should be competitive. A condensed schedule is a must, and we’ve adapted. We’re ready for a good summer.”

Bork said he expects to card 26 races per weekend and that per-day purses can be expected to average up to $150,000, although it is usually best for horsemen to have their barns well-stocked with Kentucky-breds. For instance, from a total purse of $30,000 in maiden special-weight races at Ellis, $13,000 comes from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund restricted to Kentucky-breds.

Besides the Gardenia, other stakes at the meet are the $50,000 Don Bernhardt on July 17, the $50,000 Ellis Park Turf on July 24, and the $50,000 Cliff Guilliams Memorial on Sept. 6.

The jockey colony is a good one, with Corey Lanerie, Jamie Theriot, Jon Court, and Francisco Torres among those expected to see frequent action.

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