Average daily purses are expected to top $350,000 at this summer's Ellis Park meeting, highest in the track's 99-year history, according to racing secretary Dan Bork. Bork said purses for maiden races will likely top the record $50,000 achieved in 2019 before the pandemic forced cutbacks last year in the wake of a three-month shutdown. Those numbers include Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements.
Ellis Park released its 2021 stakes schedule Sunday. The schedule features 14 stakes races and the Henderson track has expanded its Kentucky Downs Preview Day to an entire weekend, Aug. 7-8. The Preview races–all on grass and designed as stepping stones to Kentucky Downs' lucrative stakes in early September–now total seven with the addition of the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Dueling Grounds Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a sixteenth and the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Dueling Grounds Derby for 3-year-olds at a mile and an eighth.
All the Kentucky Downs Preview stakes carry a purse of $100,000 with the exception of the $125,000 Preview Turf Cup, a 1 1/4-mile prelude to Kentucky Downs' $1-million GII Calumet Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles. The winner of each of the Preview Weekend stakes receives an automatic spot with the entry fees waived in the corresponding stakes at Kentucky Downs.
Five dirt stakes take center stage Aug. 15, headlined by the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby. Also on the Aug. 15 card: the Groupie Doll S. for fillies and mares, the Ellis Park Juvenile and Ellis Park Debutante–each increased to $125,000–along with the $100,000 Audubon Oaks at seven-eighths of a mile.
“We've been delighted with how horseplayers and fans have responded to our stakes being super-sized into festival-type days,” said Jeff Hall, Ellis Park's director of racing operations. “Now we're going from two to three days that will provide some of the best racing programs outside of Saratoga and Del Mar. And I dare say on the two stakes-packed Sundays that we could be right up there with both coasts. Since creating Kentucky Downs Preview Day in 2018, the program has just blossomed and succeeded in its mission of providing launching pads to Kentucky Downs. We're thrilled to add two more stakes, filling a void in the 3-year-old grass divisions and expanding the series to a weekend.”
Ellis Park's purse increases are attributable to its relationship with Kentucky Downs, which through an arrangement with the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association will transfer $4.2 million into Ellis' purse account this year. That money will be split equally between unrestricted association purses and KTDF funds, for which the transfer requires approval of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and its KTDF advisory committee.
“The three-way deal among Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park and the Kentucky HBPA has proven a win-win-win for all parties and the state and really helps strengthen the entire circuit,” said Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA. “Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend is so fitting because it also casts the limelight on Kentucky Downs several weeks before they open. Ellis adding two 3-year-old turf stakes will keep those horses in Kentucky throughout the summer and heading into Kentucky Downs.”
The Ellis Park meeting runs from June 27 through Sept. 4.