07/10/2009 12:00AM

Ellis Park stays positive as end looms


Ellis Park is terminal. A source of fun and frivolity for sports fans in and around the Henderson, Ky., region since 1922, the track is all but certain to close its doors for good when the last program of the 2009 meet is run Sept. 7.

That sad prospect has led Ellis management to attempt to put a happy spin on a meet that began Saturday. With the stakes program pared to a mere four races, the emphasis is being placed on attracting large fields - which certainly was the case for the first two programs Saturday and Sunday - and on a variety of promotions to make the customers smile, such as camel and ostrich races (July 18), Diva Day (July 24), and weiner dog races (July 25 and Aug. 22).

"We're just trying to have the best meet we can, considering what we've been through with the legislature and everything," said Mark Geary, who serves as the director of development at Ellis for his father, Ron Geary, the Louisville businessman who bought Ellis in 2006. "We're trying to be as positive as we can and to have everyone who grew up in Henderson and Evansville [Ind.] enjoy what probably will be the last meet of Ellis Park."

Ron Geary has said repeatedly in recent months that Ellis is no longer viable without the financial relief that alternative gaming at Kentucky racetracks could provide. And with Kentucky lawmakers having once again rebuffed the racing industry, Ellis appears to be its first victim, with Geary saying that only a creative miracle would allow him to reopen the track for 2010 and beyond.

The 2009 meet is supposed to run 23 days, down from the 48 that Geary originally requested, although Fridays in August might be tacked back onto to the schedule, depending on how business fares during July, when a four-day week (Thursday to Sunday) is in effect.

As for Labor Day, Sept. 7, the last day of the meet, Mark Geary said plans have not yet been finalized for what would be the Ellis Park grand finale.

"This is a bittersweet time for everyone," he said. "We just want people to come out and really enjoy themselves while they can."

Riverside Downs closes its doors

Most of the handful of western Kentucky trainers who have used Riverside Downs as their training base have moved their horses into Ellis. That's because Riverside, which is located just a few miles from Ellis, has been shuttered for financial reasons.

Trainer John Hancock had been leasing the facility from a business called Cross International since December. Hancock was among the seven or eight trainers who had trained a total of about 120 horses at Riverside until the facility closed recently.

Riverside, a former standardbred racetrack that was converted into a Thoroughbred training facility about 25 years ago, has been beset with major problems in recent years. There have been four reported barn fires at the facility since 2003, including a November blaze in which 27 horses died.

The stable area at Ellis, which can accommodate nearly 1,000 horses, is barely half-full this summer. But for the former Riverside trainers, more logistical problems are just around the corner, since Ellis is expected to shutter everything, including the stable area, after it closes Sept. 7.

Turf allowance tops Sunday card

The Sunday feature at Ellis is a $26,000 first-level allowance scheduled for 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. A field of 11 fillies and mares, headed by Raposa and Ten Little Indians, will clash in the eighth of nine races, the lone allowance of the day.

The Sunday card drew 112 horses on the overnight sheet, including also-eligibles and entries, marking the second nine-race program in as many days to draw that big number. The Saturday opener also had 112 horses on the overnight.

After Sunday, live racing resumes Thursday at Ellis. First post daily is 12:10 p.m. Central.

Successful Dan gets back to work

Successful Dan, the unbeaten gelding who posted a narrow victory over the highly regarded Warrior's Reward in the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs, had his first recorded workout since that June 13 race when breezing an easy half-mile in 51 seconds over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland on July 4.

Trainer Charlie Lopresti has not specified a next start for Successful Dan. Lopresti has said he does not necessarily want to run Successful Dan in the top echelon of the 3-year-old division until he is more seasoned. The Northern Dancer was just the third start for Successful Dan.

Warrior's Reward finished third as the odds-on favorite in the Dwyer Stakes last weekend at Belmont Park following a brutal trip. He is scheduled to run next in the Aug. 1 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.