Ellis Park closing before summer meet

Ellis Park will not have its traditional summer meeting of Thoroughbred racing, according to owner Ron Geary.

Geary will hold a news conference Thursday morning to announce that the Western Kentucky track will close with no plans to reopen as a racetrack.

Ellis Park was scheduled to open a 44-day meet on Friday with more than 350 horses stabled at the Henderson racetrack.

Geary made his decision after a federal judge in Owensboro denied his request for an injunction against the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, he told the Courier-Journal in Louisville.

Geary wanted to use account wagering systems for Ellis bettors nationwide. The Kentucky division of the HBPA sought a higher share of revenues.

“They cut off their nose to spite their face,” Geary said of the HBPA in a statement released Wednesday night.

“I’ll take him at his word (about closing Ellis),” said Mike Bruder, a Thoroughbred owner and member of the HBPA board. “He’s making a big issue over ADW (advanced deposit wagering companies). It’s a deadlock.”

Bruder said his group wanted a three-way split between the track, ADW companies and the HBPA.

Geary filed a restraining order against the HBPA to prevent the group from blocking Ellis Park’s racing signal to all ADWs, including TVG and HRTV. The restraining order was denied.

The statement from Ellis said the track had an annual economic impact of $60 million. More than 500 workers are employed during live racing with more than 300 workers on the backside with the horses.

Ellis Park management and a local union representing mutuel clerks and valets have been in a labor dispute for months.

Geary terminated the contract between the groups on Dec. 31, 2007, and picketing began the next day, said Herman Fehler, president of Local 541 of the Racetrack Employees Union.

Fehler asserts his group has been trying to save racing in Western Kentucky. “Crunch time is here,” he said.

The statement from Ellis said Geary hasn’t released information on the future use of the track and its property.

Ellis Park has operated for 86 years. The track was nearly destroyed by floods in 1937 and by tornadoes in 2005.

Churchill Downs, which purchased the track in 1998, decided to rebuild the track rather than close it.

Geary purchased Ellis from Churchill Downs in 2006 and hoped to make the track profitable again.

Geary was counting on Gov. Steve Beshear and the General Assembly initiating the process to legalize slots at Kentucky tracks. That effort failed.

Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park, meanwhile, will be offering larger purses in 2009 when they offer summer racing.

“We’re in a real struggle here,” Bruder told the Daily Racing Form.