In Western Kentucky along the banks of the Mighty Ohio River is a little place called Ellis Park, where thoroughbred racing has been running since 1925. Located in Henderson, KY with Evansville, IN just north, its safe to say I know a thing or two about Ellis Park. Growing up you would always find me there, especially on a weekend of racing as big as the 4th of July. It’s what’s growing on the infield at Ellis Park that got this track’s its nickname. It’s actually soy beans that have been cropped and harvested on the spacious land inside the track but never the less, nickname’s stick. “The Pea Patch” carries a bit of a country-style along with brutal heat and humidity inside the Ohio river valley but at the end of the day, it’s still a special racing venue.
Today is opening day for the Ellis Park racing season that will run through August and into September until Labor Day. With an extra day of racing on Monday, it makes for a great chance to enjoy some good old fashion Kentucky Thoroughbred Racing. Ellis Park is open for only a single racing season annually, opening the same weekend that Churchill Downs completes its spring meet. A similar overlap occurred twice in recent years in 2007 and 2008. Although it wasn’t always a choice that the Kentucky Racing Commission was a fan of making, I applaud them for the approval because business, attendance and attention is just too good over the three-day holiday weekend for both racetracks.
A few of the successful jockey’s that hung their tack at Ellis Park over the years include 3 time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel. Calvin “Bo-rail” spent many summers at Ellis Park as he climbed through the ranks and eventually became the well-known jockey he is today. In the late 90’s and early on during the 2000 – 2003 campaigns at Ellis Park, you would often find he and Jon Court going head to head on a regular basis. Along with both of these jockey’s you can expect Corey Lanerie, Jamie Theriot and a few others to ride during the meets feature races this season.
- July 16 — $50,000 Don Bernhardt — 3yo & up, 6 1/2 furlongs
- July 23 — $50,000 Ellis Park Turf Stakes — f & m, 3yo&up, 1 1/16 miles, turf
- Aug. 13 — $100,000 Gardenia (GIII), f & m 3yo & up, mile
- Sept. 5 — $50,000 The Cliff Guilliams Handicap, 3yo & up, 1 1/16 miles, turf
Ellis Park is where I became a horse racing fan and began to appreciate the sport. The summer racing season was perfect for me and my brothers as we got the chance to make it out to the track a good amount of times. Enduring the heat became easy but walking away with more winnings than the two of them, however, was always interesting. “Who do you like in the 9th?”……. “Don’t worry about it.” Some of the best times I had with my brothers growing up were without a doubt somehow related to a day of racing at the track. So Ellis Park gets it’s credit for that, along with being responsible for teaching me that losing wasn’t a good idea. So Ellis is where I learned to handicap and dig deep into the racing form before placing my wagers. The outcome? Like any other day at the races – good days and bad.
Over the years, along with our Dad who introduced us to the sport of kings, we really enjoyed a good day of racing at Ellis Park. We eventually even got the chance to meet a variety of jockey’s, owners, trainers, and few others connected to the sport. Ellis Park also became the first place I ever got the chance to be on the Backside. Strolling through the stables was a pretty cool opportunity. Regardless of how small Ellis Park may be on the Kentucky and Nationwide Thoroughbred Racing Circuit, it’s still horse racing in the Bluegrass state. For me, it was a great place to be, learn about the sport and enjoy good times.
Good luck, Ellis Park, on another successful racing season. To all fans, riders, trainers, owners and connections, enjoy the meet and best of luck reaching the winners circle as often as possible. I’ll see you there later this summer.
Written by: Little Brink