By Caitlin Bowling | April 26, 2018 2:10 pm


The Executive Gate will lead people to the new Starting Gate Suites. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Churchill Downs has added 32 luxury suites in time for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby.

The all-inclusive Starting Gate Suites, which are sold out, went for $130,000 for Oaks and Derby days and can hold 30 or more people each, according to Churchill Downs officials. The suites will be available for rent during the horse racing season, though undoubtedly at a lower rate than they fetch for Derby or the Breeders’ Cup this fall.

With the new suites, “you get a feeling of how people have experienced the Derby for decades,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. “We think we are going to put on one of the greatest shows.”

Flanery added that upgrades and additions like the Starting Gate Suites allow Churchill Downs to keep up with new technology and amenity demands, but Churchill Downs always pays tribute to its heritage. Outside each suite, for example, are pictures of former Kentucky Derby horses.

Whether sitting in the main dining room in Starting Gate Suites or in an actual suite, food and alcohol are included in the ticket price for all guests. The suites themselves also have their own betting machines and three-tiered balcony seating. Eventually, it will include access to a rooftop bar and viewing area, however, that isn’t completed yet.

With the addition of Starting Gate Suites, Churchill Downs has just under 100 suites, not including those temporarily erected for Derby. Flanery said Churchill Downs is “basically sold out,” but a few seats may become available depending on how many people horse-owners bring.
Ryan Jordan is general manager of Churchill Downs. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling
The new suites are part of the $69 million in capital projects Churchill Downs is completing this year. The company invested $37 million in the Starting Gate Suites and is investing $32 million to improve parking and transportation.

Phase One of the parking and transit improvements, which included areas adjacent to Central Avenue, is wrapping up now, and Phase Two, which includes areas near Longfield Avenue, will get underway after the Kentucky Derby.

Churchill Downs will finish all the improvements before the Breeders’ Cup in November.

Improvements were needed because “it’s just a challenge to bring 175,000 people to a venue,” said Ryan Jordan, general manager of Churchill Downs.

Ahead of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs also has changed parking and traffic patterns for opening night and Derby week, including limiting traffic along Central Avenue between Floyd Street and Taylor Boulevard to its shuttles only. Guests can wait for the shuttle in the white lot just outside the Paddock Gate (Gate 1).

Other information about changes to parking and traffic is available here.

Churchill Downs has added more betting windows, self-scanners for tickets and 1,800 new seats, as well as renovated the entrance gates. Those changes “make the experience as easy for fans as possible,” Flanery said.

Those going to the track on opening night or during Derby week should enter through the Executive Gate (Gate 10) or Paddock Gate; those going to the infield should enter through Gate 3.