HENDERSON, KY (WFIE) - Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs are teaming again to boost the Kentucky racing circuit and keep horses and jobs in the state during the summer, with Kentucky Downs funding four new $100,000 turf stakes at Ellis on Aug. 5.
Ellis Park runs July 1 through Labor Day, Sept. 3, with racing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays plus July 4 and 5. The meet will have 10 stakes worth a total of $825,000, up from six stakes totaling $400,000 last year.
Positioned as Kentucky Downs Preview Day, each of the four new stakes offers a $75,000 base purse, with an additional $25,000 available in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purse supplements for horses born and sired in the commonwealth.
The stakes are designed as steppingstones for Kentucky Downs races during that track's five-date meet Sept. 1-13, as well as being summer objectives in their own right.
"This is going to really fill a void in turf stakes in Kentucky for the summer," said Ellis Park president and majority owner Ron Geary. "We are thrilled to be able to present what will be one of the Midwest's top days of summer racing. Horses targeting Kentucky Downs stakes can stay home and prep with us without the demands of shipping out of the region. We strive to keep up our overnight purses for the owners and trainers who support our race meet and Kentucky racing on a daily basis. So given the ability to add four $100,000 stakes is huge and further entrenches us as the Midwest's summer racing leader.
"We've received unbelievable support from our horsemen, and our racing office and staff have worked very hard to put Ellis Park on its upward trajectory, for which Kentucky Downs is a greatly appreciated catalyst. Kentucky Downs Preview Day is another major step forward, and a prime example of the win-win-win relationships we want to have."
Flatlined won last year's Cliff Guilliams Memorial, which now becomes the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Mile. Ellis has added the $75,000 Ellis Park Derby, in Memory of Cliff Guilliams, who had advocated for a 3-year-old dirt stakes at the track. Coady Photography
The new Ellis Park stakes are:
$100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, for 3-year-olds and upward racing 1 1/4 miles. It is a prep for the Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles, which last year carried a $600,000 purse, including KTDF money.
$100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, for fillies and mares 3 years old and upward running a mile. It is a prep for the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, worth $350,000 last year.
$100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, for 3-year-olds and upward running 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. It is a prep for the Grade 3, Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, with $400,000 last year.
$100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Mile, for 3-year-olds and upward. It is a prep for the Tourist Mile, worth $400,000 last year.
The venture is made possible by Kentucky Downs' lucrative historical horse racing operation. Kentucky Downs already offers the largest average daily purses in North America. With limited racing dates in early September, the track has opted to send some of its purse money to Ellis Park, with which it shares a strategic relationship. As part of the arrangement, Ellis Park grants the Saturday of Labor Day weekend to Kentucky Downs for the opener of its five-date meet.
"I don't know of any other track in the United States — or as far as that, the world — that would help another track out like (Kentucky Downs) helps out," Ken Ramsey, the all-time winningest owner in Kentucky, said of the new stakes. "I'm just overwhelmed that they would do that, that they would use some of the money they got from historical horse racing to help the industry out."
Kentucky Downs transferred a combined $3 million to Ellis' purse account the past two years. This season the all-turf track on the Tennessee border in Franklin will contribute a total of $2.4 million in purses and KTDF funds to Ellis Park in an arrangement that received the blessing of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, which represents about 6,000 owners and trainers racing at the state's five thoroughbred tracks. The transfer of KTDF money is pending approval by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, whose KTDF advisory committee has endorsed the move.
"Horse racing needs creative modeling," said Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen. "The new Kentucky Downs Preview Day is a perfect example of that. We're proud and pleased that we're in position to help strengthen Ellis Park, which strengthens the entire Kentucky circuit. When horses stay in the state for the summer, so do the many jobs required for their care in this most labor-intensive industry. And it only helps all the fall racing in state. Kentucky Downs lives by the mantra that we're all better working together."
Ellis Park also created the $75,000 Ellis Park Derby, in Memory of Cliff Guilliams, for 3-year-olds at a mile. With the Kentucky Downs Preview Mile filling the slot of what was the Cliff Guilliams Memorial, the Ellis Park Derby establishes a stakes lobbied for by Gulliams, the long-time turf writer and handicapper for the Evansville Courier & Press and Henderson Gleaner, as well as the Kentucky chart-caller for Daily Racing Form and Equibase. The Ellis Park Derby is on the Aug. 12 undercard of the $100,000, Grade 3 Groupie Doll Stakes for fillies and mares at a mile.
Among other stakes: the $50,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on July 8 is positioned as a lead-in to the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf four weeks later; the $50,000 Good Lord (formerly the Bernhardt Memorial) at 6 1/2 furlongs now carries the name of the Forrest Kaelin-trained gelding who won the stakes three straight years (2012-2014); and the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile and $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante wrap up the stakes Aug. 19 with a pair of 2-year-old races designed as launching pads to Churchill Downs' Iroquois and Pocahontas.
"Ellis Park has faced head-on its stiff market challenges and, with the horsemen and fans resoundingly responding, has produced its strongest racing product maybe in its 95-year history," said Marty Maline, the Kentucky HBPA's executive director. "Kentucky Downs' willingness to help another track clearly has resulted in more outfits and more horses staying in Kentucky to race during the summer than we've seen in many years. Ellis' enhanced stakes schedule will only boost those numbers."
Ellis Park's 2018 stakes schedule
July 8— $50,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, 1 1/16 miles on turf.
July 22 — $50,000 The Good Lord, 3-year-olds &up, 6 1/2 furlongs.
Aug. 5 — $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/4 miles on turf; $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, mile on turf; $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, 3-year-olds & up, 5 1/2 furlongs on turf; $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Mile, 3-year-olds & up, mile on turf.
Aug. 12 — $100,000 Groupie Doll (Grade 3), fillies and mares 3 years old & up, mile; $75,000 Ellis Park Derby, 3-year-olds, mile.
Aug. 19 — $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile, 2-year-olds, 7 furlongs; $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante, 2-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs.