HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – It came nearly a month sooner than anticipated, but the racing season at Ellis Park is now underway.
“We were going to have a busy July and August, now we’ll have a really busy June, July and August,” says trainer Jason Barkley.
Barkley and his family have trained horses for generations. When the announcement was made to suspend racing at Churchill Downs following the deaths of 12 horses, finishing the season in Henderson, it was business as usual for Barkley.
“We’re kind of used to shipping around,” explains Barkley. “I grew up with a 24 hour rule which meant we could be anywhere within 24 hours.”
Barkley spent most of his Summer’s growing up at the track, just like race fan Vince Hill, who has been visiting Ellis Park since 1944.
“I just love watching horses,” says Hill. “There’s not many places close to here you can go and see thoroughbreds like we’ve got.” Hill also says he thinks it was a good decision to move racing to Ellis as opposed to cancelling the Spring meet at Churchill Downs.
“It’s unchartered territory,” says Ellis Park General Manager Matt Pressley, “but I think the team here has handled it extremely well. I think that Churchill’s support to get this thing up and going, there’s a big difference between 30 days out and 7 days.”
Pressley says even with short notice, opening day went on without any issues.
“As soon as the announcement was made, it was as simple as get the team ready and point them in the right direction and they ran with it, and they’ve done a spectacular job,” says Pressley.
The track surface at Churchill Downs is being considered as a possible explanation related to the string of horse deaths, but Barkley says his horses in Louisville have remained healthy.
“Every track has different consistencies, you know, different types of dirt, different levels of things in the dirt that make it its surface. But, you know, Ellis is different from Churchill, but they’re both consistent for what they are.” Barkley goes on to say, “We’ve been here since right after derby, just under a month now, and we haven’t come across any issues and it’s a pretty safe surface overall.”
Despite the cloud surrounding the move from Churchill Downs, Pressley says opening weekend does not hold mixed emotions.
“As far as our standpoint here, it’s not,” says Pressley. “We’re excited to get started early. We’re excited to see some races that we normally wouldn’t have here at Ellis Park, and that’s been the mentality here.”