07/30/2010 2:17PM

Ellis Park handle slips in meet's early days


Fields at Ellis Park have been among the biggest in North America in recent weeks, with about 9.5 horses per field. Still, that hasn’t translated to a surge in all-sources handle, which seems symptomatic of the financial malaise enveloping the racing industry in general and Kentucky racing in particular.

Bob Jackson, director of operations at Ellis, said all-sources handle was down, “probably less than 10 percent,” versus comparable 2009 dates, through the first eight of 27 programs at the Henderson, Ky., track. “Ontrack, though, we’re doing well despite the extremely hot weather we had here the first three weekends. We’re up marginally in attendance and ontrack handle.”

Ellis Park’s racing secretary, Dan Bork, said he is hopeful of maintaining a field-size average of 9 or better through the end of the meet. “Anything above that is super,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re doing good. We’ve got a lot of support from the Kentucky horsemen so far.”

The start of the Hoosier Park meet this weekend means field sizes probably will be reduced somewhat, but the three-day schedule at Ellis is helping in that regard, said Bork. “I know it’s tough on horsemen who want to race more often, but I think we’ll all making the best of the situation,” he said.

Ellis runs through Sept. 6. The track’s owner, Ron Geary, threatened to close the track each of the last two years before dramatically reducing the traditional number of dates. Geary has said the track is “limping along with a revised business model that is working for us now,” but that a more permanent solution in the form of alternative gaming at Kentucky tracks is needed for tracks such as Ellis and Turfway Park to survive.

Music has Churchill turnstiles spinning

The inaugural HullabaLOU music festival hosted at Churchill Downs last weekend (July 23-25) attracted a total of 78,753 attendees during its three-day run, according to event officials. That figure counts each time a person came through the gates on separate days.

The target figure had been 90,000, but oppressive heat throughout the weekend surely kept away an untold number of potential ticket-buyers. Some 65 bands appeared on five stages throughout the festival, including such major acts as Bon Jovi, Kenny Chesney, and Dave Matthews.

Churchill officials say they hope to make HullabaLOU an annual event. The track began hosting major music events in September 2006 with the Rolling Stones before the company eventually formed an entertainment division.

Gardenia Day card looks solid

Gardenia Day at Ellis, set for Aug. 14, no longer includes three other stakes in support of the lone graded race of the meet, the Grade 3, $100,000 Gardenia. Because of severe cutbacks in the stakes program, those races were moved a couple of years ago to another date (the Ellis Park Turf) or suspended (Ellis Juvenile and Fisher Debutante).

Gardenia Day, however, still should be the best day of the meet again this year. A look ahead at the Ellis condition book reveals an overnight handicap and four allowances as supporting events on a 10-race card.

Kuntzweiler gets a win

Things haven’t unfolded quite as well as Greta Kuntzweiler had hoped in her return to riding, but at least the 35-year-old jockey got a long-sought first victory,scoring at Ellis aboard Dream Date Diva on July 18. Into this weekend, Kuntzweiler had compiled a 1-for-29 record at this meet.

Kuntzweiler missed a far more dramatic comeback victory when beaten a fraction of an inch aboard longshot Happiness Is in the July 3 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill. Kuntzweiler missed more than 4 1/2 years of riding because of issues involving substance abuse before returning June 24.

◗ Kentucky horsemen are mourning the loss of George Fahey, who died last week in Louisville at age 62. Fahey was involved in racing on several levels, primarily as an enthusiastic handicapper who was a regular contributor on a local radio show and as the father of trainer-turned-agent John Fahey.

◗ The Sunday feature at Ellis is the $38,500 Silent Eskimo for fillies and mares at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. First post is 12:50 p.m. Central.