07/02/2013 12:39PM

Ellis Park: Track surface ready for meet opener


Ellis Park has had its ups and downs in m ore than 90 years of existence, with closures, bankruptcy, changing ownership, employees’ strikes, horsemen’s boycotts, and even a devastating tornado in fall 2005.

So the latest problem to arise was little more than a proverbial bump in the road for the western Kentucky track. Valid complaints that the main racing surface was full of rocks were made public two weeks out from the 2013 opener on Thursday.

“We’re very confident we’ve got it all under control now,” said Ron Geary, the Louisville businessman who in 2006 bought Ellis, long known fondly by fans as “The Pea Patch.”

“Our grounds crew has worked very hard to remedy that situation, and now we’re looking forward to an outstanding meet,” Geary added. “The entry box really filled up for the first two cards. There’s a lot of excitement about these next two months.”

The 29-day meet starts Thursday with standard Ellis fare: four of the nine races are scheduled for the turf, with the five main-track races mostly being lower-level claiming events. The nominal feature is a first-level turf allowance (race 6) with a $31,500 purse, of which $13,500 is restricted to horses eligible for Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses.

Ellis racing secretary Dan Bork said per-day purses will average about $160,000, although that counts the KTDF, a portion of which typically goes unearned.

“We have 95 entries Thursday and 90 on Friday,” including also-eligibles and entries, noted Bork, who works as the Gulfstream Park racing secretary during its main winter meet. “We’ve got a lot of grass races in the [condition] book, which the horsemen like. We should have a solid meet.”

As usual, an abbreviated stakes schedule will be highlighted by the only graded race at Ellis, the $100,000 Gardenia. The Grade 3, one-mile race for fillies and mares is set for Aug. 10. Otherwise, there are just three $50,000 stakes on tap, with the first one, the Ellis Park Turf, set for Saturday.

Trainers such as Bill Mott, D. Wayne Lukas, Mike Maker, and Ian Wilkes are represented on the first two programs, and the jockey colony retains many of the same faces who were prominent at the recently ended Churchill Downs spring meet.

For many years, until giving up the date for 2012, Churchill had held racing on July 4, so this is the second straight Independence Day that Ellis has gone solo. “It’s always a nice way to start the meet,” Geary said.

The Ellis promotional schedule comprises about a dozen events, with the perennially popular weiner-dog races set for July 13 and 20 and the camel and ostrich races for July 27.

Instant Racing, the pseudo-slot machines touted by Ellis as “electronic parimutuel games,” continues to be offered onsite at Ellis while funding a fraction of the purse account.