08/13/2009 11:00PM

Geary considering 2010 Ellis meeting

Email

As the Ellis Park meet hits its high point Saturday with the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes, easily the most pressing question concerns the long-term future of the 87-year-old Henderson, Ky., track. Will Ellis reopen for 2010 or beyond?

Ron Geary, the Louisville businessman who purchased Ellis from Churchill Downs Inc. in 2006, does not have a firm answer.

"We're still in the evaluation stage about all that," Geary said Thursday. "We've got to make up our minds by Oct. 1 whether to apply for dates. We're still looking at all the options trying to find a way to make it viable."

Just a few months ago, Geary said Ellis would permanently close following the 2009 meet, citing the familiar lament about how racinos in Indiana and other states have rendered obsolete the business model for Kentucky racetracks, especially the smaller ones, i.e., Ellis and Turfway Park. Geary has since softened his stance to a degree, but insists that Ellis must not be a loser for him to persevere.

When the 2009 meet ends Sept. 7, Ellis will have run 28 dates. The original request was for 48 days, but Geary scaled back to 23 when it became apparent that competition for horses from Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park would substantially cut into the track's pool of available runners. With the newly condensed schedule, field size at Ellis has averaged about 9.6 horses per race, so Geary elected to expand from a schedule of Saturdays and Sundays by tacking on five Fridays.

Ontrack and all-sources business has been solid, said Geary, "but you have to step back and take a realistic look at it. After all, you're running 28 days versus 48, so of course you should have more horses per race. If you do the math and go back to your original schedule, obviously you'd be hurting for horses."

Geary said he is encouraged by the support Ellis has received from within the industry, most notably from the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which has planned a "Forever Ellis" rally for Aug. 22 at the track. The rally will be held in the winner's circle after the fifth race.

Geary said that if Ellis files an application for 2010 dates with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, it will be because he intends to run a meet.

"I've always approached it in good faith, that if you apply, you ought to plan on doing it," he said. As for whether the track will remain open for simulcasting after Sept. 7, he said: "We would need the simulcast money to build up purses for our live meet, so obviously that's an important issue. But like everything else, we're still evaluating what we should do."

A successful Gardenia graduate

Nobody could have known that when Swift Temper went postward in the 2008 Gardenia as the rank outsider at 21-1, she not only would go on to win by daylight, but she also would win a $1 million race before another year had elapsed.

"I know I never could have imagined it," trainer Dale Romans said Thursday from Saratoga, where Swift Temper is training toward the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Aug. 30.

Since Swift Temper emerged from obscurity last August to post her third career victory when taking the Gardenia by 4 1/2 lengths, she has earned nearly $1 million for owner Mark Stanley, the bulk of it coming with her wire-to-wire triumph last month in the $1 million Delaware Handicap.

"The Gardenia was her breakthrough race," said Romans. "It made us start thinking she was capable of major accomplishments, like the Delaware Handicap and these other big races. The Gardenia is the race we point to and say, 'That's where she started turning it around.' "

Successful Dan not quite ready to run

Successful Dan has not raced since he remained unbeaten by narrowly defeating Warrior's Reward in the June 13 Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill. Trainer Charlie Lopresti said a minor setback with an ankle led him to miss some training at Keeneland with Successful Dan, a 3-year-old Successful Appeal gelding bred and owned by Mort Fink.

"I don't think the ankle is anything major, but he just hasn't been quite 100 percent," said Lopresti. "It wasn't like we planned on chasing the big boys at Saratoga anyway. What I'd wanted to do was run him in a little stakes at Presque Isle Downs, then maybe try tougher company if he ran another big race. But obviously we've had to move our schedule back a little with him."

Prior to his Northern Dancer score, Successful Dan began his career with a maiden win at Keeneland and an allowance victory at Churchill. Since the Northern Dancer, he has had two half-mile breezes, on July 4 and Aug. 1.