Ellis Park Concludes Live Meet with Mixed Results
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
HENDERSON, KY— Due to the increased competition and alternative gaming in neighboring states, Ellis Park was forced to reduce its 2009 live meet season which ended September 7, from the originally scheduled 48 days to a 28 day meet. Ellis Park’s twenty-eight day racing meet ended with a total all-source handle of $46,674,643 or $1,666,952 daily average compared to the 2008 total all-source handle of $78,229,999 or $2,005,897 daily average for the thirty-nine day meet. This 40.3 percent decline in total handle was substantially attributed to the decrease in total races in 2009. The number of races totaled 254 in 2009 compared to 392 total races in 2008, a decline of 35.2 percent.
While the total all-source handle and number of races declined, an increased show of support from area fans and their desire to push for VLT’s (video lottery terminals) contributed to the increase in on-track activity. Daily on-track attendance increased by 22.4 percent for the twenty-eight day meet with an average of 3,698 in 2009 compared to the thirty-nine day meet in 2008 with a daily on-track attendance average of 3,022. The daily on-track handle for the 2009 live meet averaged $205,646 compared to the2008 average of $176,195. This is an increase of 16.7 percent.
A concerted effort was made to increase the number of starters per race. Included in the efforts, Ellis Park added more turf races to the daily race card and reduced the total number of races by 35.2 percent. As a result, the number of average starters per race increased to 9.2 in 2009 compared to 7.6 in 2008, an increase of 21 percent. “Because of overlapping race dates in Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, among others, coupled with slots or casino-enhanced purses in 2009, Ellis Park had to be creative to compete. Our racing secretary Dan Bork really stepped up and worked hard to keep us competitive,” stated Ron Geary, owner and president of Ellis Park. The sudden closure of Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Illinois on August 15, a month earlier than scheduled, also attributed to the increase in entries this year.
Racing stars for the meet include trainer William “Buff” Bradley who saddled 11 winners. The leading owner was a tie between Elvie Cobb and Carl Short with 5 winners each. Jockey Jon Court won the riding title by booting home 33 winners for the meet with Corey Lanerie finishing a close second with 32 winners. Apprentice Freddie Lenclud was the leading “bug boy” with a total of 17 wins for the season.
Event highlights included, among others, the popular town days and two days of fun-filled wiener dog races again in 2009. Proceeds from the wiener dog races benefited the Racetrack Chaplaincy program and Tri-State Food Bank. Ellis Park also continued the college giveaway days with a Dell laptop computer giveaway day on July 12 sponsored by the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and a college scholarship giveaway day on August 30 sponsored by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. In total, Ellis Park awarded nine Dell laptop computers and nine $1,000 college scholarships. Ellis Park’s second annual camel and ostrich race day resulted in a big success with attendance at 7,019.
Nearly 6,000 fans joined Ellis Park on August 22 as they partnered with the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) to host the Forever Ellis rally. The rally was held to address the challenges facing Ellis Park and Kentucky’s equine industry, namely Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other competitor states in which some form of alternative gaming is available to enhance purse funds. Employees, horsemen, fans, vendors and suppliers of Ellis Park have joined countless others to encourage Kentucky’s legislature to approve alternative gaming options in the Commonwealth—the most recent legislation died in the Senate A&R Committee during a special session in June.
“I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our local and regional fans,” says Geary. “So many folks have been calling Kentucky legislators urging them to rethink adding VLTs to the racetracks. They have been coming to Ellis Park for many, many years and are begging me to find ways to keep the track going. We continue to lose significant money, but because of the loyalty of the fans and my passion for thoroughbred racing, I will continue to assist KEEP and the overall pursuit to strengthen the Kentucky equine industry.”
Because of the unlevel playing field that alternative gaming has offered competing states, the future of Ellis Park is still uncertain.