Former Ellis Park jockey and GM revisits history of the track

Former Ellis Park jockey and GM revisits history of the track
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 6:52 PM CDT
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HENDERSON, Ky. (WFIE) - Robert Jackson is a former jockey and General Manager at Ellis Park. To him, the track might as well be his first home.

“I started riding here in the early 60′s,” says Jackson.

Jackson was a horseman when his prize for a win was $50, and the prize to ride a losing horse was $15.

That’s a far cry from where Ellis Park is headed this summer, with multiple purses ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars up to a million.

For Jackson, whose roots run deep at the racetrack, it’s a bizarre number.

“To come in here and run a million dollar race is unheard of at Ellis Park,” says Jackson.

To appreciate how profound that really is, you’ve got to back, over 100 years back.

Originally named “Dade Park” after it’s conception in 1922 as a homage to the famous AB Barrett Dade, a director of the Jockey Club.

The name was switched to “Ellis” in 1954 in honor of longtime owner James Ellis.

In the 101 years of the track, it changed hands numerous times. As with every story of triumph, it wasn’t without its setbacks.

After a fire ravaged the stables in 1995 killing over 20 horses, a tornado tore through the track and surrounding areas just a decade later in November of 2005.

“I was sleeping when my administrative assistant called me on the phone,” recalls Jackson, “she lives in Henderson, and she says there’s a tornado heading to Ellis Park.”

“It took several hours to get all of the horses out of the barns, check all of them, and make sure that everybody was safe,” says Jackson.

Even with extensive damage to the track and racing facilities alongside multiple horses dying, Jackson and the rest of the staff had the track running just months later for their summer live meets.

Forever the Ellis Park historian, Jackson says he’s still definitely involved after pouring decades into Ellis Park, both rooting for and riding the horses, before retiring as GM in 2016.

He says he isn’t surprised at all by the caliber of horse or purses about to be in Henderson.

“That’s what we were striving for all along was to get those horses here,” says Jackson, “we have one of the best racing surfaces in Kentucky, and the horsemen will all tell you that. They’d rather race on the track at Ellis than anywhere.”

The first race of the Matt Wind stakes kicks off just before 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon.