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Historic past, bright future 

Ellis Park Racing & Gaming begins its second century 

IN THE FIRST HALF of the 20th century, Kentuckian James C. Ellis amassed a reported $100 million fortune horse trading, drilling oil wells and accumulating farmland. He also built boats, barges, pipelines, roads and bridges. 

His 1924 rescue of a fledgling horseracing track at a Henderson County bankruptcy auction is still paying dividends today. Ellis Park carries his name and is welcoming new generations of racing and gaming fans where for three decades “Col. Jim” nurtured its growth. 

In 2023, patrons wagered more than $60.4 million during 24 days of summer racing, $11 million more than 2022. Open year-round, Ellis Park hosts simulcast wagering on the second floor of the clubhouse and 300 historical horse racing machines plus sports wagering kiosks on the first floor. Traditional Independence Day racing returns to Henderson in 2024. 

“There’s a reason why on our 2023 program we said, ‘Historic Past, Bright Future,’” says Matt Pressley, who became Ellis Park’s general manager in June. “We truly believe that. We know and we honor the racetrack’s past as it’s gone on through the years with multiple owners. But now is the time to really bring it up to speed and make sure that we have a bright future here.” 

One previous owner, Churchill Downs Incorporated, reacquired Ellis Park in 2022, and is now making capital investments on the 101-year-old property, “just really bringing Ellis Park back to its glory days,” Pressley says. 

The racetrack’s electric cooperative, Kenergy, values its place in the community. 

“Ellis Park is not only a landmark, it’s a fun, laid back place which welcomes guests from near and far,” says Leslie Barr, Kenergy’s communications and public relations specialist. “We’re proud to provide them power and support the venue.” 

Though Ellis Park’s capacity for about 6,000 guests is small compared with most other thoroughbred racetracks, it maintains rigorous professional and safety standards to host world-class racing. In June, Churchill Downs shifted the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park while it conducted a safety review at the Louisville track. 

“I’ve got to give hats off to this team,” Pressley says. “I’ve never in my career seen a team that took it as such an opportunity to showcase Ellis Park and all that we can do.” 

The unplanned event introduced Ellis Park to a whole new audience. 

Pressley says, “I had patrons, owners and trainers coming up to me, saying ‘Wow, I’ve seen it on simulcast and heard about it, but have never been here. This place is awesome.’” 

LOCATION: Henderson (North of the Ohio River, just south of Evansville, Indiana) 

INDUSTRY: Thoroughbred horse racing, gaming entertainment 


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