Longtime horse trainer reacts to Churchill Downs reaching agreement to buy Ellis Park

Longtime horse trainer reacts to Churchill Downs reaching agreement to buy Ellis Park
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 12:35 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 19, 2022 at 12:36 AM CDT
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HENDERSON, Ky. (WFIE) - Ellis Park has had its share of different owners and ownership groups over the years.

From the Green River Jockey Club to James C. Ellis – from the Kumar family to Ron Geary – and most recently with Laguna Development Corporation. But through it all, the racing has continued to thrive at the old pea patch.

And now, it appears there’s another change about to occur, following Thursday’s announcement that Churchill Downs has reached an agreement to buy Ellis Park for an estimated $79 million. This deal will include the proposed off-track betting parlor property in Owensboro.

It would become the second time in which Churchill Downs has owned the Henderson track.

“Sounds like they’re gonna come in and spend quite a bit of money redoing the old place,” longtime horse trainer John Hancock said. “It’s got a lot of work that needs to be done – plumbing, grandstand, the barn area on the back side – but it sounds like they’re willing to take it on.”

[PREVIOUS: Churchill Downs discusses big plans for Ellis Park]

Based out of the Henderson area, Hancock has raced and trained hundreds of horses at Ellis Park. He says the 100-year-old track definitely needs a major upgrade.

“To be honest with you, it would take somebody like them to buy this place to take it on, who has the money to do it with,” Hancock said. “Because you can’t just keep patching things trying to make it work because the facility’s 100 years old, and you patch one place and spring a leak in another place.”

Hancock adds that the level of racing has been some of the best he’s ever seen at Ellis Park, and he hopes that will continue.

“I don’t know how you can make it any tougher at Ellis Park than what it’s already been. How many Hall of Famers did we have running here this summer? Lukas, Mott, Asmussen, and probably one of the best jockey colonies that’s ever been at Ellis Park was there this summer,” Hancock said. “They’re talking about adding to the purse money and making it a valuable place to run and keep people here instead of venturing away. I think once you do that, you’re gonna keep more riders here and you’re gonna keep more horsemen in Kentucky. So, I think it’s a win-win.”

Ellis Park’s sale to Churchill Downs is not yet official. The deal must be approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which is expected to have a meeting sometime this week.