09/03/2009 11:00PM

Glimmer of hope track may survive


Just a couple of months ago, racing fans might have been targeting Sept. 7, 2009 as a day to live in infamy. Ron Geary, the owner of Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., announced on June 23 that he intended to close the 87-year-old track after the 2009 meet ended because of insurmountable financial obstacles.

But as a reshuffled Ellis meet neared its conclusion Monday, there is no clear sense of impending doom. Geary said he and his staff have been working long hours, "considering about 15 different scenarios and all the what-ifs."

"This is a big, tough decision in front of us, and I want to have all the facts before making that decision," he said.

Geary, a Louisville, Ky., businessman who bought Ellis in 2006 from Churchill Downs Inc., initially cut dates at the 2009 meet from 48 to 23 before restoring the last five Fridays of the meet. When the 28-day meet ends Monday following the emergence of what Geary called "some encouraging developments," there will be no dirges played, no last dances, no funereal aura.

"I'm not saying we have decided to apply for dates, but there have been positive signs," he said.

Geary said business is up, particularly ontrack, compared with 2008, with increased field size playing a role (he said Ellis has averaged 9.2 horses per race, versus 7.6 in 2008 and 7.3 in 2007). He said the enthusiasm of Ellis fans; the financial difficulties of Fairmount Park, which resulted in the meet closing early this year; and the legal difficulties over revenue splits at Indiana racinos all loom as contributing factors in whether to run a 2010 meet. And perhaps most importantly, he said the political landscape in Kentucky government appears to be subtly shifting in favor of an eventual legislative victory for alternative gaming at state tracks, a must-have for Ellis to remain viable.

Ellis, like all Kentucky tracks, must submit a dates request for 2010 by Oct. 1. Assigning of dates by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will be done by Nov. 1.

"This track is vitally important to the people of western Kentucky, and I'm listening to that," said Geary. "At the same time, we have to make sound business decisions before we move forward."

Court surprises himself

Jon Court recently said he had no reason to believe he would be the leading rider this summer at Ellis, nor did he have any such ambition. Although Court won five straight Ellis titles (1998-2002) before leaving for the Southern California circuit, he had not been getting as many mounts since he returned here this spring.

But as the final four-day stretch of the meet began Friday, Court appeared en route to another Ellis riding crown. Court held a 29-27 lead over Corey Lanerie atop the standings, and although Court will miss closing day to ride at Arlington Park, Lanerie will miss Saturday and Monday to ride elsewhere.

Later start for Keeneland opener

Keeneland Race Course in Lexington plans to stage its version of twilight racing on Oct. 9, opening day of its 17-day fall meet, by starting a 10-race program at 2:15 p.m. Eastern. Otherwise, first post will be 1:05 for the balance of the meet, which runs through Oct. 31. The track will formally request the change for opening day Tuesday at a commission meeting in Lexington.

"It's just a little something to allow more people more time to enjoy more racing," said track spokesman Jim Williams.

Filmmakers looking for extras

Executives with the upcoming Disney movie "Secretariat" are looking for people to work as extras for the movie in the Louisville and Lexington areas. The two-week filming duration is scheduled to begin later this month, according to a media release.

Open casting calls for extras will be held Thursday at Churchill Downs in Louisville from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., and next Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Griffin Gate resort in Lexington from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those interested must bring a non-returnable current snapshot of themselves.