Kentucky Downs Preview Day, Ellis Park Derby head meet
HENDERSON, Ky. (Friday, June 12, 2020) — If approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, live horse racing will return to the Tri-State area on Thursday July 2 at Ellis Park. Originally scheduled for Sunday June 28, Ellis made the request to move the date four days to ensure all health and safety protocols are met following the COVID-19 pandemic. The summer meet will be highlighted by a pair of stakes-laden programs on Aug. 2 and 9.
Ellis Park will start off racing without spectators in the grandstand and grassy area near the paddock, but track management is hopeful that the Commonwealth will allow fans in the stands at some point during the summer. The Clubhouse is open for Historical Horse Racing on the first floor and parimutuel betting on the second floor.
“We were going to be open one day and then be dark for three days, before picking back up on July 2,” said Jeff Inman, Ellis Park’s general manager. “Just waiting until July 2 gives us additional valuable time to institute all the safety protocols involved with staging horse racing in the COVID-19 era. We are looking forward to the new opening date being a kickoff to a big four-day July 4th weekend.
“At this point we are unable to commit to having spectators in the grandstand and in the grassy picnic areas near the racetrack apron and paddock. We’re awaiting word from Gov. Beshear’s office as to when we can open areas outside of the Clubhouse. We cannot wait to get our fans back and we will be ready to go as soon as Gov. Beshear and his staff feel that it is safe.”
Ellis Park will not have live racing the week following the Independence Day holiday weekend in a previously-announced agreement that allows Keeneland Race Course to race July 8-12 to make up for the Lexington track’s COVID-canceled April meet. Racing at Ellis will resume Friday, July 17 and run Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Aug. 30.
After four years of sustained growth, the Ellis purse account for the 2020 meet was battered by the nearly three-month shutdown to simulcasting and Historical Horse Racing due to the national health emergency. The track reopened this past Monday under reduced capacity and with strict safety measures in place.
Even with the challenges, Ellis Park will stage a pair of signature cards that promise to be in the national spotlight, with five $100,000 turf stakes on Kentucky Downs Preview Day on Aug. 2 and another stakes quintet on Aug. 9 headed by the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby, with four other $100,000 races.
The Ellis Park Derby, whose distance has been expanded from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, is part of Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying series. With 50 points to the winner, the horse is virtually assured a spot in the 20-horse field for America’s greatest race, which was delayed to Sept. 5 because of the pandemic.
The Aug. 9 undercard features the seven-furlong Audubon Oaks, a one-time Ellis Park fixture that was revived this year to serve as a local prep for the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks. Additionally, that day will include the Groupie Doll for fillies and mares, the Ellis Park Juvenile for 2-year-olds, and the Ellis Park Debutante for 2-year-old fillies.
In its first two years, Kentucky Downs Preview Day quickly stamped itself as one of the most important days of summer racing in the Midwest. The five $100,000 all-turf stakes are designed as launching pads to corresponding stakes at Kentucky Downs’ meet four weeks later in Franklin. The Ellis stakes are largely funded by money generated at Kentucky Downs and transferred to the Ellis Park purse account in an agreement with the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, which represents horse owners and trainers at both tracks. Winners of the Kentucky Downs Preview stakes receive an automatic fees-paid spot in their associated Kentucky Downs stakes.
Last year Totally Boss swept Ellis’ Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint and Kentucky Downs’ Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint to earn a “Win and You’re In” spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Factor This, winner of the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, finished fourth in Kentucky Downs’ Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup before sweeping the two biggest turf stakes in New Orleans, the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Stakes and Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic.
Arklow captured the inaugural Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup and Kentucky Downs’ Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup in 2018 before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs.
“The trend in racing has been packaging stakes into big event days,” Inman said. “We have a pair of showcase cards, strategically placed on Sundays to put Ellis Park in the limelight for the national simulcast audience on that day. Racing secretary Dan Bork also positioned both days so that they work well with turf stakes at Churchill Downs’ spring meet and Keeneland’s boutique session and also as preludes to Kentucky Downs and Churchill Downs’ new Derby Week and September meet stakes.”
The Aug. 2 and 9 stakes all include $25,000 in Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purse supplements.
Ellis Park will have two other $50,000 stakes: The Ellis Park Turf for fillies and mares on July 5 and the Good Lord Stakes for sprinters on July 26.
“While we’re certainly going to have our challenges, we believe the momentum of the Kentucky circuit the past few years and the loyal support of our horsemen and fans will serve us well,” Inman said. “As Americans and businesses everywhere confront this rocky stretch created by a once-in-a-century health emergency, we will get through this together. We are just delighted that we are able to bring live racing to western Kentucky this summer, even more so given the uncertainty surrounding whether there will be racing in Chicago at Arlington Park this summer. The Kentucky Downs Preview Day and Ellis Park Derby day should be a real treat for horseplayers and racing enthusiasts everywhere.”
Ellis Park 2020 stakes
July 5 — $50,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, 1 1/16 miles (turf).
July 26 — $50,000 Good Lord Stakes, 3-year-olds & up, 6 1/2 furlongs.
Aug. 2 (all on turf) — $100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, 5 1/2 furlongs; $100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles; $100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, fillies & mares 3 years old &up, mile); $100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, 3-year-olds & up, 5 1/2 furlongs; $100,000* Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile, 3-year-olds & up, mile.
Aug. 9 — $200,000* Ellis Park Derby, 3-year-olds; 1 1/8 miles; $100,000* Audubon Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs; $100,000* Ellis Park Juvenile, 2-year-olds, 7 furlongs; $100,000* Ellis Park Debutante, 7 furlongs. *-includes $25,000 from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund