MSW Projections: Ellis $70,000, Kentucky Downs $150,000

Ellis Park | Coady


Purse levels for maiden special weight (MSW) races on the Kentucky circuit have been projected for the summer meets at Ellis Park ($70,000 through 24 dates in July and August) and Kentucky Downs ($150,000 for seven days in September).

Those figures were disclosed by representatives of those tracks Wednesday during a meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund (KTDF) advisory committee.

The projected Ellis MSW purses will be a boost from the $60,000 offered in 2022.

Kentucky Downs will remain year-over-year level at $150,000 after last bumping up MSW purses from $135,000 in 2021.

Ellis will be running its first meet under the ownership of the gaming company Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), which last September announced a $79-million buy of Kentucky's only Thoroughbred venue in the western part of the state.

Ellis executives said changes for 2023 will include an attempt to run nine races daily instead of eight.

The Ellis racing secretary, Dan Bork, said the stakes program will also be importing the GIII Pucker Up S., which had formerly been run at Arlington International Racecourse until CDI shuttered the historic Chicago track in 2021.

In 2022, the Pucker Up was initially scheduled to be run as part of the GI Arlington Million undercard at Churchill Downs. But the nine-furlong turf race for 3-year-old fillies was one of two races scrapped in an effort to preserve Churchill's slow-to-grow, new $10-million grass course.

Bork said moving the race to Ellis will come with a purse increase to $300,000 from last year's scheduled $200,000, and will place that stakes as the centerpiece of a two-day, seven-stakes turf weekend Aug. 5-6. The remaining six grass stakes will all have purses of at least $200,000.

As far as facility improvements, Jeff Inman, the Ellis general manager, said there is a lot of work going into the “water and drainage situation” that has long been a problem at Ellis.

“Churchill is taking some major steps to come up with a whole solution as opposed to the piecemeal ones that we have done in the past,” Inman said.

Inman also noted that “continued construction work on the grandstands” will start Apr. 6. “We are currently working on our entryway canopy to make a more pleasing entrance.”

CDI will be rebranding the Ellis simulcast presentation to standardize the signal with other tracks in its corporate portfolio, including transferring on-air talent from Churchill Downs to Ellis.

A new video board will be installed in the Ellis infield.

Kentucky Downs will race seven days again in 2023 after going from six dates to seven in 2022.

Ted Nicholson, the senior vice president and general manager at Kentucky Downs, said to expect the standard 10 or 11 races on weekdays, and 11 or 12 on weekends.

Nicholson said the hotel on the property will finally be open for the first time during a race meet.

Nicholson said Kentucky Downs “had tornado damage on a couple barns, so we're in the process of shoring those up.”

A new horsemen's “perch” is being built for 2023. Nicholson said it will be located between the paddock and the stewards' stand, with the weighing-in scale for riders being moved elsewhere to fit in the two-story, 25-by-25-foot viewing stand.

“It will allow for horsemen to go up and watch the race and get a better bird's-eye view of it than what they've been getting,” Nicholson said.

The KTDF advisory committee approved the recommendation of allotment requests that the Ellis and Kentucky Downs purse estimates were based on, but the full Kentucky Horse Racing Commission still has to vote on final approval of the funding.

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