07/08/2009 12:00AM

Entries strong for Ellis opener

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When Ellis Park opens Saturday for its 86th meet, it will lack its customary race dates - trimmed from last year's 48 days of racing to 23 - but at least for opening day it won't be lacking entries.

A total of 112 horses were entered Wednesday for Saturday's nine-race card - although 11 of those entrants are on also-eligible lists. Six races drew full fields of 12, and the shortest race on the card, the second, drew eight runners.

The swell of opening-day entries was an optimistic beginning to what could be the final season of racing at Ellis Park, the Henderson, Ky., track that has long been the summer link of year-round racing in Kentucky.

Weakened by a sagging economy and competition from expanded gambling in Indiana and other states, owner Ron Geary announced in June, following the failure of video lottery terminal legislation in Kentucky, that the track would close after the 2009 meet.

Geary has since wavered slightly from that statement, saying in a press conference that a 2010 meet at Ellis Park was a "longshot."

The track, which Geary purchased three years ago from Churchill Downs Inc., will race primarily on weekends between July 11 and Labor Day, Sept. 7, except from July 16 through July 26, when it will race on a Thursday-Sunday schedule.

There is no stakes scheduled opening day, but the track is promoting an appearance by the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide, who typically resides in retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.