04/15/2015 11:10AM

Churchill unveils new suites for Derby, Oaks owners

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Green awnings cover the 20 suites Churchill has built for owners of Derby and Oaks runners.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Churchill Downs on Wednesday unveiled its renovated section for the owners of Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, a ground-floor section comprising 20 private, open-air, all-inclusive suites between the sixteenth pole and finish line.

The $4.2 million project aims in part to ease some of the ticketing headaches that have existed in prior years for some owners. Each ownership entity for the Derby and Oaks will be provided with 18 complimentary tickets in their own suite as well as the option to buy a six-seat box in section 318, a prime viewing area in the upper clubhouse.

“This allows us to have the competitors in the Derby and Oaks together and to have them really enjoy their experience,” Churchill racetrack president Kevin Flanery told a gathering of media. “We’ll be able to give them a little tender, loving care and have a great time.”

The new suites are under cover and are located adjacent to a new trackside winner’s circle that will be used for post-race ceremonies other than after the Derby, which still will use the traditional infield cupola for the winner. The runway leading from the paddock to the racetrack splits the suites into groups of nine and 11 while replacing sections 118 and 119 and a part of section 120. There are sizable open green spaces situated between the suites and racetrack that will have multiple uses, including temporary seating during Derby week. The suites will be used for live-racing events during other times of the year.

The project is the latest at Churchill in remodeling its 140-year-old facility. Nearly $180 million has been spent in the last decade on numerous upgrades, including a massive clubhouse and grandstand renovation completed in time for the 2005 Derby and the addition last year of the Big Board videotron that can be seen from virtually every vantage point in the grandstand, clubhouse, and infield.

Churchill general manager Ryan Jordan said racetrack staff works year-round “to improve the customer experience. We think we’ve done that here.”