With deal reached, Ellis Park to open Friday

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In an announcement that brought a collective sigh of relief from all involved, Ellis Park will begin its summer meet Friday after owner Ron Geary and Kentucky horsemen arrived at an agreement Saturday afternoon on account-wagering revenue splits. The meet had been scheduled to open last Friday.

Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the deal was consummated Saturday afternoon after Geary has agreed to pay nearly one-third of the takeout toward purses.

"The blended take in Kentucky racing is roughly 19.5 percent," said Hiles. "We're getting 6 percent, which is close enough. We are all delighted that we can now get back to the business of racing."

Last year at Ellis, Horsemen recieved 2 1/2 percent of the account-wagering handle.

Ellis, located in Henderson, Ky., could have opened as early as Wednesday but decided to "just ride with the condition book," said racing secretary Dan Bork. Entries were to be taken Sunday for Friday, as originally scheduled.

The first five days of the 44-day meet were lost, although Bork said it is possible some or all of that time might be made up before the meet ends Sept. 1 through additional days or races. For now, racing will be conducted on a five-day-a-week basis (Wednesdays through Sundays) as originally planned.

Geary, the Louisville businessman who bought Ellis from Churchill in September 2006, announced the closing of Ellis on Thursday in response to horsemen withholding their permission for Ellis to send its signal to account-wagering outlets. The previous day, a U.S. District Court judge in Owensboro, Ky., denied a request for an injunction that would have allowed Ellis to offer account wagering on its races.

The closing of Ellis would have left Kentucky without any Thoroughbred racing from the conclusion of the Churchill Downs meet on Sunday until Turfway Park opens Sept. 3.

Churchil has been stalemated with Kentucky horsemen on the account wagering issue since its meet opened April 26. Wagering on Churchill races through major networks such as Xpressbet and Twinspires has not been permitted during that time. Horsemen also are seeking one-third of total revenues from account wagering sources from Churchill.

Geary had said he may have to cut purses if he gave in to the horsemen's demand for their share of account wagering at Ellis, but Bork said no such cut has been planned. Bork has estimated a per-day purse structure of about $150,000.

Geary estimated that about 5 percent of total handle on Ellis races in 2007 came from account wagering but expects the amount to increase to 10 to 15 percent of handle this year. Account wagering is the only real growth segment of an otherwise stagnant wagering market in horseracing.

The Saturday announcement ends a tumultuous few days that rocked Kentucky horsemen, as well as Henderson and its surrounding communities. Ellis, built in 1922, has operated a race meet every year since 1925.

The meet highlight, the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes, is scheduled for Aug. 16 as part of the Big Four stakes day. The first of 11 stakes comes July 12 with the $50,000 Audubon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on turf.

Ellis suspended its imported-simulcast operations Thursday but was expected to resume them as early as Sunday.