After a busy winter at Churchill Downs, track President Kevin Flanery took a few minutes Friday morning to watch some of the horses expected to start in next Saturday’s 143rd Kentucky Derby put in their workouts.
When the 38-day Spring Meet gets underway at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, the track throws open the doors on its latest renovation work, a $16 million project to modernize the second floor of the Clubhouse. The area, which includes a completely upgraded facility with many creature comforts, typically can hold about 13,000 patrons.
But racing fans are likely to spot many other improvements throughout the plant, such as more ATMs and additional trashcans to toss those losing mutuel tickets. In the Clubhouse renovation alone, where foot traffic patterns were streamlined, the restroom capacity was more than doubled, along with the installation of more than 220 flat-screen TVs and upgraded food and beverage service.
“We are focusing on the guest experience,” Flanery said. “It is really amazing what our team does each year.”
With the usual large crowd expected on opening night, Saturday gives Churchill Downs a chance for a shakedown run to work out the kinks ahead of Derby Week, which begins Tuesday, leading up to next Friday’s 143rd Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, followed by the Derby on Saturday, when the nation’s attention focuses on the historic Central Avenue plant.
Part of the opening night festivities will include the second annual teaming with Louisville’s Fund for the Arts to showcase some 150 local artists with 20 live arts performances around the track. A portion of the proceeds Saturday will benefit the Fund for the Arts.
But Churchill Downs is built for horse racing, and fans will have an 11-race program to watch.
The feature event is the $100,000 third running of the William Walker Purse for 3-year-olds, which attracted a field of seven, headed by the Todd Pletcher-trained Syndergaard. The New York-bred colt – racing in the colors of Eric Fein, Christopher McKenna, Harris Fein, Guri Singh and Jerry Walia – drew the rail and will be ridden by his regular jockey, John Velazquez.
Syndergaard, the horse and not the Mets’ pitcher (Noah Syndergaard), is making his first start this year after finishing fifth in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November at Santa Anita. As a 2-year-old, he was nosed out in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont by Practical Joke, after winning his first two starts at Saratoga. He is the 4-5 morning line favorite.
Drawing toward the outside in post position 6 is Conquest Wildcat, a 5-1 shot trained by Randy Morse with Corey Lanerie appointed to ride. The Florida-bred, who won his maiden at Churchill Downs last May, finished second the last time out two weeks ago in the Bachelor at Oaklawn Park.
Not to be overlooked is locally based En Hanse, also at 5-1, who’ll have Julien Leparoux aboard. The colt, owned by Kendall Hansen and Bode Miller and trained by Mike Maker, won here last fall and scored some strong results at Turfway Park before finishing ninth in the Grade III Spiral Stakes on March 25.
After opening night, Churchill takes two days off, before three days of day racing with a 12:45 p.m. post time.
Tags: Calhoun Construction, Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, Kevin Flanery, Louisville Kentucky, Ryan Jordan, Turf Club