From a Bloodhorse story two years ago:
"We want to take Ellis Park to the next level," Geary said after opening ceremonies at the track that actually sits on the Indiana side of the Ohio River. "We want it to be one of the best small racetracks in the country. We want to make this the Del Mar or Saratoga of the Midwest."
Horse owners loved the thought of a new fresh face in charge:
"We've backed the new ownership 110%," said Mike Bruder, a racehorse owner whose serves as the Ellis Park representative on the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors. "We'll do our part to fill races. The whole community is behind this place."
His love of the horse was made apparent quickly as well, when he bought an old warhorse, just to retire it. From WTVQ in Lexington:
The gelding was sold from owner Kenneth Robinette to Ellis Park track president Ron Geary yesterday. Geary then scratched Alpena Magic from a four-thousand-dollar condition claiming race for safety reasons. The horse will now serve as an "equine ambassador" at the track, working with children as part of the track's Early at Ellis program.
From Curb My Enthusiam's blog:
The Early at Ellis program is a family friendly event that runs on Saturday from 7:45 a.m. until 9 a.m. In addition to a $3.95 breakfast, it includes games and prizes for children, guest presentations, backside tours and photos with horses.
Then the big news. Ron as a player (he was a finalist in the National Handicapping Championship) knew he had to do something to lower prices for fans, and give his track's handle a shot in the arm. He created a 4% takeout pick 4. The lowest takeout bet in the 125 year history of North American pari-mutuel wagering. It spurred interest. One of the pick four pools for the small track, without ADW coverage, hit almost $100,000 in a single day.
"Ron Geary is exactly the kind of new owner that the industry needs." (Curb my Enthusiam) Was echoed from many places, by me included. He is what we strive for in a track owner.
Ron also, and this might have been his downfall, wanted to offer the Ellis Park signal to anyone who wanted it for this years meet. Anyone. He wanted to kickstart Ellis's handle, because last year with all the fractured ADW fights, he could only offer his signal to a select few. He is a businessman, why wouldn't he offer the signal to anyone who would offer bets for him?
This is the result. And this is exactly what is wrong with racing. From Ellisparkracing.com
July 2, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Leadership of Kentucky HBPA Forces Closure of Ellis Park Thoroughbred Racing
Henderson, Kentucky. A disagreement between two outside parties will close the 86 year old Ellis Park due to lack of available revenues. According to Ron Geary, owner of Ellis Park, “Ninety percent of our revenues come from off track, internet and television broadcast wagering. The leadership of Kentucky HBPA [Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association] has an ongoing dispute with these ADWs [advanced deposit wagering companies] and Ellis Park is caught in the crossfire.”
The Kentucky HBPA sent a letter to Geary the evening of Thursday, June 26, 2008, stating they would block Ellis Park’s racing signal to all ADWs which include two national television racing channels HRTV and TVG. Geary had negotiated aggressively with the ADWs for 2008 coverage of the live meet and has more than tripled the potential commissions for Ellis Park and the KHBPA—from $4 million in handle (wagers) to an estimated $15 million. Commissions are split between Ellis Park and the Kentucky HBPA purse fund. By blocking Ellis Park’s signal, the income is lost.
“It is shocking to think that the KHBPA would choose to close down Ellis Park rather than take advantage of the additional revenue already negotiated with the ADWs for 2008,” states Geary. “They know it and they don’t care. All the KHBPA is focused on is hurting the ADWs this year so they can negotiate a higher percentage next year. What they are doing is a scorched earth strategy with huge collateral damage to the Tri-State.”
Geary filed for a restraining order with the Federal Court in Owensboro, KY against the Kentucky HBPA Tuesday, July 1, 2008, to prevent them from blocking Ellis Park’s racing signal. The Federal judge ruled today that a restraining order could not be issued, therefore, clearing the way for the KHBPA to block Ellis Park from participating with the ADWs including HRTV and TVG.
“They cut off their own nose to spite their face,” retorts Geary. “Ellis Park was at a critical point. Since I purchased the track, I have invested millions and lost millions getting her back to her old glory. We were set to open this Friday, the Fourth of July, and it was going to be a spectacular year. I love this track and I love horse racing. I am not, however, in the business to continue to spend millions of dollars per year keeping her going just to have the Kentucky HBPA pull the rug out from underneath us. It is a tragedy.”
Ellis Park is not alone. The Kentucky HBPA as well as affiliate HBPA organizations nationwide have blocked signals to ten tracks so far. Some are getting hit harder than others. For example, recent articles on bloodhorse.com cite that Calder Race Course’s handle is down 72% for the first 37 days of live racing. Churchill Downs was forced to cut purses 20% because the KHBPA also blocked their racing signal to ADWs. Each track has individual contracts with their state run HBPA and available ADWs. Ellis Park is the first to be forced to close.
The closure of Ellis Park has affected hundreds of families and the region as a whole. Ellis Park had an economic impact on the area to the tune of $60 million annually. They employed over 500 workers during live racing and another 300-400 were expected to work on the backside of the track with the horses. In 2008, over 1,000 horses were slated to be stabled at Ellis Park. Over 150,000 fans were expected to visit Ellis Park this summer.
“I am truly ashamed of the Kentucky HBPA leaders who orchestrated this ploy,” continues Geary. “They want more of a cut from the television and internet wagering sites. I have been willing to work with them to negotiate an equitable long-term agreement with the ADWs on their behalf. I offered to give them anything above and beyond the signed contract I already have with the ADWs for this year. Then I recommended a slower percentage increase than the jump they are demanding. It’s all fallen on deaf ears.”
Ellis Park’s opening day was set for this Friday, July 4, 2008. The office will remain open for the next several weeks to handle refunds of pre-paid reservations and sponsorships. Meetings will take place immediately with all employees and vendors to communicate the transition. Geary has not released information regarding the future use of the track and its property which he owns.
Ellis Park has operated thoroughbred racing for 86 consecutive years. The track was nearly destroyed by floods in 1937 and by tornadoes in 2005. In 2006, Ron Geary purchased Ellis Park and implemented a long-term plan to return the track to profitability.
Ellis Park will hold a news conference under the grandstand on Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. CDT to answer any media questions. Enter the main gate and follow the signs. No media calls will be returned before the start of the news conference.