10/29/2014 1:13PM

New seating area to be built for Derby, Oaks owners


Owners of horses in next year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks will each be provided a complimentary suite at Churchill Downs as part of a $4.2 million project to construct 20 open-air boxes on the grandstand apron, the track announced Wednesday.

The construction of the suites will allow Churchill to address complaints this year about substandard treatment of owners at the Derby and Oaks. Previously, Churchill had provided each owner with six complimentary tickets to a box on the third floor and access to a common food and beverage area.

Next year, owners of each horse will receive 18 free tickets for each suite, which will include “full-service hospitality, including a premium open bar and gourmet food,” and a betting terminal, Churchill said in its announcement. The suites, which will be partially covered, will be located on either side of the tunnel leading from the paddock to the track at approximately the sixteenth pole.

The suites will be back from the rail, and Churchill plans to construct a lawn area in front of the suites. While the lawn space will be an open area for everyday racing, Churchill plans to put in place 600 temporary seats in the area for Derby and Oaks day, with those ticketholders also getting access to a common food and beverage area.

The Derby and Oaks have become lucrative profit centers for Churchill Downs, which has focused much of its efforts at the track over the past 10 years on leveraging the two races largely through new ticketing and seating opportunities. Those efforts, which have included the construction of a posh area on the fifth floor called “the Mansion” for extremely wealthy patrons, also have upped the expectations of horse owners, leading to the complaints this year.

Construction of the suites will displace about 120 current box holders, Churchill said. The area where the suites and lawn area will be built also was a popular place for general-admission customers, who could walk from the paddock area to the track through a tunnel to watch races live.

In the release, Churchill said current box holders are being contacted individually to be relocated to other areas. Officials for the company did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.