At a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved transferring Ellis Park's license to the Saratoga Casino & Hospitality Group. According to The Blood-Horse's Eric Mitchell, the SCHG is seeking to buy 100 percent of the Henderson, Ky. track, and a deal is expected to be completed in the next few days.
Ron Geary has owned Ellis since 2006, when he purchased it from Churchill Downs. In 2012, the SCHG, which also owns Saratoga Harness Racing, Inc., purchased 30 percent of Ellis Park.
Live racing at Ellis Park is expected to resume on Friday.
Statement from Ron Geary on selling his 70-percent stake in Ellis Park to Saratoga Casino and Hospitality Group, which already owns the other 30 percent (acquired in 2012):
“It's been 12 years, and I just turned 71. My wife and my two kids and my nine grandkids for years have asked me to slow down. I think it's time. I've enjoyed working with Saratoga over the years.
“It's been a really fun and fast-moving 12 years. I feel like we've had some great successes and we've brought it a long ways with so many people's help. I know Saratoga will be focused on continuing the progress.”
(Note: This year Ellis Park is offering a record $230,000 a day in purses, made possible in part because of a strategic relationship with Kentucky Downs, in which the Kentucky HBPA facilitated the transfer of $2.9 million in purses from Kentucky Downs to Ellis Park to bolster purses and encourage horsemen to stay in Kentucky for the summer.)
Geary said he is pleased that SCHG has indicated that current staff management, headed by general manager Jeff Hall, will stay intact. “That's what I recommended,” he said. “This is going to be one of our best operating years in our history, especially if we ever get a break with the weather, and I just think it will get better and better.”
According to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Ellis Park's Historical Horse Racing operation was up 10 percent for the recently concluded fiscal year over the prior year. HHR is up 40 percent the past three months over the corresponding three months in 2017, the commission said.
Geary teamed with Saratoga Casino and Hospitality Group in 2012, giving them a 30-percent stake in the track in exchange for $4 million, which was used to launch Historical Horse Racing at Ellis Park.
“Back in 2011, I was trying to figure out what it took to get Ellis into the black and make it profitable. I decided I had to invest in Instant Racing, called Historical Horse Racing now. I took a whole year and visited 44 different racetracks, casinos, racinos and met a bunch of people and talked to them that I would like to bring in a 20 to 30-percent partner to help me launch Instant Racing. Seven groups or people were interested. One of the last groups I met with was Saratoga, and there was kind of a bond immediately. We always got along great. We always dealt with each other with openness and candor. They are a very dependable group of people, ones you can trust. I went with them. They put up $4 million to get the original Instant Racing open in the clubhouse, and we've been working together ever since. They are good people.”
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