07/28/2009 12:00AM

Ellis Park requests more racing days


Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., has asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to approve the addition of five live racing days to its meet, citing better-than-expected results through the first 10 days of the current stand, according to officials of the track and the state.

The racing commission has added the request to a regularly scheduled meeting for Aug. 4, according to Lisa Underwood, the executive director. Ron Geary, the owner of Ellis, met with racing commission officials on Monday to discuss the possibility of adding the five consecutive Friday cards, beginning on Aug. 7, after meeting on Saturday with horsemen.

Geary and officials of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association had earlier this year asked the commission to approve a request to trim the Ellis meet from 48 days to 23 days. Geary and the horsemen had contended that Ellis would be unable to attract full fields of horses for a 48-day meet because of competition from tracks in Indiana and Pennsylvania.

In that April request, Geary told commissioners that the track may want to add Friday racing in August if the track's business results exceeded expectations. So far, field size at Ellis is up 24 percent through the first 10 days of the meet to 9.45, compared to last year's figure for the entire 39-day meet of 7.61, according to statistics kept by the Jockey Club.

"He had said that if things went well he would want to add the Fridays, so this doesn't come as a surprise," said Underwood.

On Tuesday morning, Geary credited the track's racing secretary, Daniel Bork, for writing "creative" condition books, and he also said that the track's strategy of carding four to five grass races each day had paid off.

Geary and Marty Maline, the executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, also said that they expected to attract more horses in August than initially anticipated because of the closing of Fairmount Park in southern Illinois a month early, as well as the recent announcement by Hoosier Park that its purses will average only $150,000 when the track opens on July 30.

Fairmount was scheduled to race into mid-September. As for Hoosier, Geary and the horsemen had initially contended that the track would offer average daily purses of approximately $225,000 a day because of subsidies from slot machines, but Hoosier's casino has performed well below expectations since opening last year.

Geary said that Ellis has been averaging $140,000 a day in purses, including owners and breeders bonuses, since the meet opened.

At the time that Geary made the request to trim Ellis's meet, in April, Kentucky's racetracks were participating in an aggressive public-relations campaign to drum up support for a special session of the legislature so that a bill legalizing slot machines at racetracks could be considered. The special session took place in June, but the slot-machine bill did not make it past a committee in the Senate after passing in a vote on the House floor.

After the bill failed, Geary said that he would close Ellis Park after this year's meet. On Tuesday, he hedged those remarks, saying that he was still considering whether to apply for dates for 2010. A bill legalizing slot machines at racetracks is expected to dominate next year's legislative session, and some supporters of racetracks slot machines are hopeful that another special session will be called in the fall to consider a bill.

"We're trying to find a way to stay open next year, but it's got to make economic sense," Geary said.