July 10 marks the opening day of charming Ellis Park's annual live race meet, which runs through Labor Day. The summer meet is highlighted not only by wonderful weather and good times, but also great racing: The Gardenia Stakes and the Claiming Crown are two of the featured race events. And for the 2010 edition of the meet, horses aren't the only animals racing to the finish. Fun fan events include camel, ostrich, and wiener dog races.

According to Patti Nickell, author of Horse Lover's Guide to Kentucky, “Its twin spires may not be as famous as those of Churchill Downs, but western Kentucky’s Ellis Park in Henderson has a history nearly as colorful. Built in 1922 by the Green River Jockey Club, which hoped to model it after New York’s famed Saratoga, the track began its existence with a design snafu and an opening race featuring the wrong breed of horse.

The owners, wanting it to be one of the nation’s longest tracks, specified the length to be one-and-a-half miles, but the architect submitted a plan that made it three-eighths of a mile shorter. As a result of a time crunch, the shorter track was approved. While always planned as a Thoroughbred track, Standardbreds, or trotting horses, were featured at the park’s opening meet in October 1922, and it wasn’t until a month later that the first Thoroughbred race was held.

Over its long history Ellis Park has seen its share of thrills and more than its share of hard times (financial woes leading to the founders’ bankruptcy, the 1937 flooding of the Ohio River that saw the waters reach the mezzanine level of the grandstand, and a November 2005 tornado that damaged the physical plant)." 3300 US Highway 41 N., Henderson. (270) 826-0608.

Upcoming Horse Lover’s Events:
A Gift from the Desert: The Art, History and Culture of the Arabian Horse, International Museum of the Horse, Lexington: May 29-Oct 15
Ellis Park Race Meet, Henderson: July 10 – Labor Day
Fasig-Tipton July selected yearling sales, Lexington: July 13-14
Red Mile Quarter Horse meet, Lexington: July 16-17
Breyerfest, Lexington: July 23 BLM Wild Horse Adoption, Lakeside Arena, Frankfort: July 23-24
Hall of Fame Reining Show, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington: July 28

Anne M. Eberhardt Photos