Ellis Park was built by the Green River Jockey Club in 1922. It initially held a harness meeting on the Grand Circuit for the total of $32,000 in purses for a five day race meeting.
These short meets didn’t meet the needs of the track and in 1925 after three years of operation the Green River Jockey Club went bankrupt. In 1925 James C. Ellis purchased the track then called Dade Park. He changed the name to Ellis Park and brought about many changes at the track including adding a totalizator wagering system and a terrace grandstand. He died in 1956 and the track was managed by his nephew, Lester E. Yeager. Under Yeager’s leadership a new paddock and jockey’s quarters were built in addition to a new clubhouse and stable areas. Ruth Adkins took over in the mid 1960’s. In 1985 the track was sold to Roger and Lila Kumar. They built a Sky Terrace atop the Grandstand and pushed for the inter-track wagering legislation in Kentucky. They sold the track to the Racing Corporation of America in 1989. The company sold the track to Churchill Downs Incorporated in 1998. The racetrack suffered extensive damage as well as the death of several racehorses when a tornado went through the area in late 2005.
During most years Ellis Park has been Kentucky’s summer home for Thoroughbred racing. With a fan base the Tri-State area of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, Ellis Park’s traditional summer meeting runs from mid-July through Labor Day. Originally designed after Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the circumference of Ellis Park’s dirt track is 11/8 miles, the largest in Kentucky. Featuring 7-furlong and 1-mile chutes, the track is 86 feet wide on the backstretch and 100 feet across the homestretch, which is 1,175 feet long. In 1993, a 1-mile turf course was installed inside the main track.
Currently, 14 stakes races, centered around the $200,000 Grade III Gardenia Handicap, headline the racing program, which annually offers about $1.1 million in purses.