(Photo: The Brad Cox-trained Factor This, with Shaun Bridgmohan up, won Ellis Park’s 2020 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup for the second straight year. The 1 1/4-mile stakes gets a $25,000 purse increase to $125,000 this year. Coady Photography)
HENDERSON, Ky. (Sunday, Aug. 25, 2021) — Ellis Park is back on track to offer record purses while adding two new stakes for the 2021 racing season. The meet runs Sunday June 27 through Saturday Sept. 4.
Racing secretary Dan Bork said maiden races likely will top the record $50,000 achieved in 2019 before the pandemic forced cutbacks last year in the wake of a three-month shutdown. Average daily purses should top $350,000, which would be the highest in Ellis Park’s 99-year history. Those numbers include Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements, for which the vast majority of horses are eligible.
The condition book, which details the races for which entries will be taken on a given day, will be finalized in May after the Kentucky Derby, Bork said. Meanwhile, a 14-race stakes schedule was announced today, highlighted by the highly successful Kentucky Downs Preview Day now becoming Preview Weekend on Aug. 7-8 with the two new races. Six stakes received $25,000 purse increases over last year.
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, Grade 2 Calumet Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles.
“We should have very quality racing,” said trainer Larry Jones, the Hopkinsville native and long-time Henderson resident who has spent most of the summers of his training career at Ellis Park. “With the extra stakes and the money the way it is, it’s going to bring in a lot better outfits – horses that maybe would have gone to Saratoga will stay and race at Ellis. I’m looking forward to it. It reminds you of days gone by.”
Kentucky Downs Preview goes from Day to Weekend
The Preview Dueling Grounds Derby and Oaks are set for Saturday Aug. 7, along with the Preview Turf Sprint. The remaining four stakes are scheduled for Sunday Aug. 8: the Preview Turf Cup, Preview Ladies Sprint, Preview Ladies Turf and Preview Mint Million Mile.
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 a week later on Aug. 15, headlined by the $200,000 Ellis Park Derby. Last year’s running of the 1 1/8-mile race was captured by Keeneland’s Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass winner Art Collector. Also that day again will be the Groupie Doll for fillies and mares, the Ellis Park Juvenile and Ellis Park Debutante — each increased to $125,000 from 2020 — along with the $100,000 Audubon Oaks at seven-eighths of a mile.
The Eddie Kenneally-trained Lady Kate won last year’s Groupie Doll and then finished second to two-time champion Monomoy Girl in Churchill Downs’ Grade 1 La Troienne. Sconsin, who is trained by Greg Foley, went from a third-place finish in last year’s Audubon Oaks to victory in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Eight Belles and a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
The purse for every stakes includes $25,000 in KTDF supplements for registered Kentucky-breds.
“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.”
The stakes schedule kicks off July 4 with the $75,000 Ellis Park Turf for fillies and mares and the $75,000 Good Lord for older sprinters on July 17.
Unique relationship proves win-win-win
Boosting Ellis Park’s purses is the unique relationship the track has with Kentucky Downs, which through an arrangement with the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent & 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.
“Kentucky tracks were hit hard last year with COVID restrictions and the three-month shutdown. It’s so great to see things coming back to some sort of normalcy. The Ellis meet should be sensational — the barn area full and crowds as large as the governor permits. There will be no better place in the Tri-State area to break out of cabin fever than at Ellis Park.”
Ellis Park 2021 stakes schedule
Each includes $25,000 KTDF*
Sunday July 4 — $75,000 Ellis Park Turf, fillies & mares, 3 years old & up; 1 1/16 miles (turf). Saturday July 17 — $75,000 Good Lord, 3-year-olds & up, 6 1/2 furlongs. Saturday Aug. 7 — $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Dueling Grounds Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles (turf); Kentucky Downs Preview Dueling Grounds Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, 3-year-olds & up, 5 1/2 furlongs (turf). Sunday Aug. 8 — $125,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, 3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles (turf); Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint, fillies & mares 3 years olds & up, 5 1/2 furlongs (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, fillies & mares 3 years old & up, one mile (turf); $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Mint Million Mile, 3-year-olds & up, mile (turf). Sunday Aug. 15 — $200,000 Ellis Park Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles; $125,000 Groupie Doll, fillies & mares, 3 years old and up, mile; $125,000 Ellis Park Juvenile, 2-year-olds, 7 furlongs; $125,000 Ellis Park Debutante, 2-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs; $100,000 Audubon Oaks, 3-year-old fillies, 7 furlongs.
*Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund