Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
than two weeks before Ellis Park was ready to open its doors for the summer
racing season, the concern for many horsemen began to swell. Last fall tons of soil
was excavated from the Ohio River before being set down on the track to build
it up before the season. Unfortunately, what came with it was not welcome.
June it was noticeable that the dirt track in Henderson, KY contained unsafe amounts of limestone
gravel and other foreign materials. As the safety of the horses began to increase many horsemen began to withdraw. Most notably it was local Henderson resident and longtime
Ellis Park trainer, Larry Jones.
decision to stable his horses on the other side of the state at Churchill Downs
Training Center was a setback for Ellis Park. When Jones decided not to enter
his horses at Ellis this summer and head for Indiana Downs or Arlington Park
instead, EP was in jeopardy of losing more horsemen that they needed.
Ellis Park has been faced with the challenge of removing debris from their
track before. In November of 2005, Ellis Park was directly hit by a devastating
tornado. The aftermath of the damage put Ellis Park to the test and much work
had to be done in order to recover. One key element of repairs was removing all
of the debris that had settled into the racing surfaces. To clean it up as best
they could, special machinery was brought in from Maryland to remove all of the
wreckage that sunk into the dirt.
the gravel and rocks were identified this summer, Ellis Park made the call. The
same machinery that helped them clean things up in 2005 was sent back in. According
to reports from many exercise riders, horsemen and trainers the method has again
proved to be successful. Concerns over the track conditions have decreased over
the last two weeks and the 2013 racing season is scheduled to begin over a dirt
track that is tight, watered and ready for racing.
the early concerns about the rocks in the dirt, the entries for this weekend filled
up nicely. Last Saturday morning the racing office began taking entries for the
July 4 opener. As of this morning, a total of 85 horses are scheduled to run on
the nine race card with an additional 10 on the AE list. A similar number of
entries are scheduled over the next two days of live racing and that is a strong
sign for Ellis Park.
few of Kentucky’s top riders are probable to be in this summer. Due to the live
racing schedule at Ellis Park (see below) many will travel in for a day or two
over the weekend while also riding elsewhere regularly. Among them may be last year’s leading rider and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Brian Hernandez, Jr.
Prior to his break out ride aboard Fort Larned and stellar 2013 season,
Hernandez got the momentum going at Ellis Park last summer. His record at the
end of the meet was 131-25-30-17 with a total earnings of $462,642; Nice work.
on board as well will be the jockeys that finished 2nd and 3rd
in the 2012 standings, Corey Lanerie (25) and Jon Court (24). Others that you
can expect on a regular basis: Jesus Castanon, Ricardo Santana Jr., Norberto
Arroyo Jr., Leandro Goncalves, and Victor Lebron.
there will probably be two legends riding on occasion, one probably more than
the other. The first is three time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel. A
regular rider here throughout much of the 1990’s, Borel always seems to return
for a solid 50 – 75 mounts each summer. Another familiar face that you can always
count on is none other than R.A. “Cowboy” Jones. Riding horses since 1959, the
Cowboy rides again on opening day. At age 70, Jones is primarily an exercise rider
but he is always up for a mount or two every summer. It wouldn’t be a true
opening day without him, so keep an eye out for the Cowboy aboard Morato Cat in
the 3rd race.
for the top trainers that you will see most often expect Michael Maker, Dale
Romans and Kenny McPeek to enter a few. Maker tied for the meet lead in 2012
with 8 wins alongside Tim Glyshaw while McPeek walked away as the earnings
leader with $178,968.
are a few stakes races scheduled in 2013 but there is only one big day of
racing. The G3 Gardenia Stakes is the only graded stakes race on the calendar
this summer. But, it is still a very fine race that has attracted many strong
contenders since it became a graded in 1988. The most recognizable winner was
Groupie Doll in 2011. Before capping off a 5 race win streak in the 2012 G1 BC
Filly & Mare Sprint, this is where Groupie Doll scored her very first graded
Park Summer Meet
Park opens on the 4th of July and races through Labor Day every
summer. However, the amount of live racing days is limited. With the exception
of July 4th and Labor Day 2013, they are scheduled to run every
Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In the past, there have been some cases of simultaneous
racing on the 4th of July but Ellis Park has always steered clear of
scheduling live racing at the same time as Churchill Downs. And, that was also
the case before Churchill Downs acquired Ellis Park in 1998. Although, CDI
later sold the track in 2006, a common respect for separate racing seasons has
remained ever since.
For me, Ellis Park was a great place to be introduced to the
sport. So, as always, good luck Ellis Park on a successful racing
season. To all fans, riders, trainers, owners and connections, enjoy the
2013 heat index, humidity and oh…………the live racing season as well. Cheers.