Races are back on at Ellis, Opening Day Excitement Returns
Lori Smock can tell the trucks at Indiana Downs to start the trip south.
Buddy Gogel can keep his five head of horses tuned up and ready to run.
Jerry Joe Greenwell can scan the condition book and find races that fit his stock.
Phillip "Snowball" Parm can dream of another big payday from the two allowance horses in his barn.
Bobby Melton can continue to keep close watch on the backside as the superintendent of stalls, and continue to urge horsemen to take a positive attitude.
In other words, things are back to what passes for normal in the barn area of a race track, now that Ellis Park horsemen and ownership have reached an agreement to open for business on Friday, July 11, a week later than planned.
"It's unbelievable," said Gogel, a 31-year-old second-generation horseman from Henderson who keeps a sandbox full of toys outside his barn for his 2-year-old son.
"We all were ready to get started on the 4th (of July), then kind of stuck in purgatory when they said the track was closing, then brought back to life today (Saturday).
"I've got five horses, and they're all ready to run. I'm just glad they'll get the chance."
Work went on in the barn area at Ellis Park even after owner Ron Geary abruptly announced the track's closing on Thursday, the day before the scheduled live meet opener. Horses had to be fed, watered and worked, even though no paychecks were forthcoming.
Smock has the most horses of any trainer on the grounds, with 36 filling her barn.
"We've got another 22 sitting up at Indiana Downs, that we'd planned to have here," Smock said on Friday morning. "Right now, the truck's running, but we don't know where it will go."
It was a costly stalemate. Smock brought much of her stock to Ellis from Tampa Bay Downs three weeks ago, along with eight full-time employees - six grooms and two hotwalkers. Four other hotwalkers have been hired locally. She had three horses entered for opening day on Friday and another two set to run on Saturday.
If Ellis didn't open, she was looking toward moving to River Downs in Cincinnati or Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania, both long trips.
"We made a huge investment coming here," said Smock, whose top owner is Mary George of the Hulman family and Indianapolis Motor Speedway fame. "We came here to race and to win races."
Turfway Park probably would have picked up Ellis Parks' dates if it stayed shut down, and the HBPA was offering a plan to pay for travel. But horsemen from the area are happy to stay home.
Minutes after the agreement was announced on Saturday, Greenwell was in a familiar spot - the driver's seat of his golf cart outside Barn 5 - going through the condition book that lists races.
Racing secretary Dan Bork will start taking entries for Friday's card today, and Greenwell wanted to be ready.
"If this is the worst thing that happens to any of us, then we've got it pretty good," said Greenwell, from nearby Waverly, Ky. "We wouldn't have been here in the first place if this wasn't what we love to do."
That's the case with Parm, who has two horses not only ready to run, but ready to win.
"For 45 years, I've been doing this, good times and bad," said Parm, from near Hatfield, Ind. "We had some bad this week, now we're ready to have some good."
That's what Melton anticipates, too.
"There's been a lot of negativity about horse racing going around, but there's a lot of positives, too," he said. "I don't know if people recognize what this place means to the community, how many people's lives are entwined with this place. There's the horsemen but there's the stores and the hotels and the restaurants and the farmers and the kids parking cars and the girls selling the beer.
"It would be awfully lonely around here without a race meet every summer."
Tim Ethridge, CourierPress.com
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