Ellis Park Race Course
Henderson, Kentucky 42420
Ellis Park is a thoroughbred racetrack in Henderson, Kentucky, just south of Evansville, Indiana. An unusual fact about the track is that it actually lies north of the Ohio River, which forms the border between Kentucky and Indiana, which would put it within Indiana. However, the state border is based on the course of the river as it existed when Kentucky became a state in 1792. Due to the New Madrid earthquake of 1812, the Ohio changed course to the south, leaving the land that would later house Ellis Park separated from the remainder of Kentucky by the river. The racetrack actually uses Indiana's 812 area code despite officially being located in Kentucky.
It was built by the Green River Jockey Club in 1922. It initially held a harness meeting on the Grand Circuit for the total of $32,000 in purses for a five day race meeting. On November 10, 1922 a 10-day thoroughbred meet with purses of $62,000 was held. The meet was a stop on the train route south to New Orleans for winter racing at Fair Grounds Race Course.
These short meets didn't meet the needs of the track and in 1925 after three years of operation the Green River Jockey Club went bankrupt. In 1925 James C. Ellis, a Rockport businessman, purchased the track, then called Dade Park. He brought about many changes at the track including adding a totalisator wagering system and a terrace grandstand. He died in 1956. Two years before that, according to the track's website, the facility had been renamed Ellis Park.
The track management was then led by Ellis's nephew, Lester E. Yeager. Under Yeager's leadership a new paddock and jockey's quarters were built as was a new clubhouse and stable areas. He passed the baton onto Ruth Adkins in the mid 1960's.
Adkins was the chief officer of the James C. Ellis estate, which still owned the track and businesses and real estate in Kentucky and Indiana. The track was sold in 1985 to Roger and Lila Kumar. They built a Sky Terrace atop the Grandstand and pushed for the inter-track wagering legislation in Kentucky. They, in turn, sold the track to the Racing Corporation of America in 1989. The company sold the track to Churchill Downs Incorporated in 1998.
The racetrack suffered extensive damage as well as the death of several racehorses when a tornado ripped through the area on November 6, 2005.
On July 17, 2006, Ellis Park was purchased by Ron Geary, a Kentucky businessman, from Churchill Downs Incorporated for a yet undisclosed sum of money. The track's dates will be shifted so racing will begin at Ellis on the Fourth of July which would have Ellis overlapping the final week of racing at Churchill Downs. The 2007 meet was highlighted by the Claiming Crown, the first running of the Claiming Crown in the state of Kentucky and the first time the Claiming Crown will be held elsewhere other than Canterbury Park since Philadelphia Park hosted the 2002 edition.
On July 2, 2008, Ellis Park owner Ron Geary announced that he would close the track, after a federal judge denied an injunction against the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association in an ongoing dispute over simulcast wagering revenues. However, on July 5, a deal was struck between Ellis Park and the association that would reopen the track. Under this agreement, horsemen would get a larger share of wagering revenues.
On March 9, 2009, Geary notified the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that he will have a reduced racing schedule this year and plans to close the track the following year, citing a lack of purse money compared to other courses and a lack of horses.
The track was designed after Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York and features a 1 1/8 mile dirt track. The track features chutes for seven furlong and one mile (1.6 km) races. A one mile (1.6 km) turf course was installed in 1993. The facility is 210 acres (0.85 km2) and has a 6,000 seat grandstand and 38 barns. It is the only track in the country to contain a one-mile (1.6 km) chute at a 90-degree angle by the first turn. This is because Saratoga Race Course used to have this type of chute to run one-mile (1.6 km) races, called the Wilson Chute.
Recent Performances and Future
Rumors began circulating in 2005 that the track might be sold due to competition from off-track betting facilities and casinos in Indiana. Then in 2005 the Evansville tornado caused millions in damage to the racetrack. A total of 11 barns were destroyed and several horses were killed by the storm. After speculation that Churchill Downs would close the track, it was announced the track would be open in the summer of 2006. It was subsequently sold to Ron Geary on July 17, 2006.