Churchill Downs boosts number of gaming machines at off-track facility

By David A. Mann – Reporter, Louisville Business First

Churchill Downs Inc. received approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to increase the number of historical racing machines for the opening of its new Derby City Gaming facility in Louisville.

The nearly complete 85,000-square-foot, $65 million facility is scheduled to open on Poplar Level Road in September. It will feature 900 machines, up from the 600 previously announced.

Churchill Downs Inc. requested approval for the additional machines because of widespread enthusiasm in the new venue, a news release said. The company anticipates significant consumer demand for these machines, which it believes will have a positive impact on Kentucky’s horse racing industry.

“We’re overwhelmed by the support we’ve received since announcing Derby City Gaming — it’s clear that Kentuckians are passionate about how the new HRM facility will strengthen the commonwealth’s horse racing industry,” Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack, said in the release. “Derby City Gaming will support Kentucky’s equine industry through larger purses and greater incentives for breeders and owners. That’s important because a stronger horse racing industry means a stronger Kentucky.”

Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack and senior vice president of Churchill Downs Incorporated poses for a portrait at Churchill Downs.

Derby City Gaming is expected to create a total of 450 jobs, including 250 already involved in construction and an estimated 200 new full- and part-time jobs to operate and manage the facility. The company will soon be hosting job fairs to help fill these new positions.

Derby City Gaming will house two quick-service, walk-up food venues, as well as a bar with seating for 50 and large format televisions. The facility will open with a player’s club reward center offering special perks and benefits, including an exclusive parking area for loyal guests.

Derby City Gaming is located at 4520 Poplar Level Road, which was formerly the company’s Trackside site (also known as the former Sports Spectrum.) It’s located less than half a mile from the Poplar Level Road exit off the Watterson Expressway.

The Horse Racing Commission also conditionally approved the Ainsworth Game Technology historical racing operating system and an initial group of game themes for the Derby City Gaming machines, the release said.

Historical race wagering machines are similar in look and feel to slot machines and can be designed with different styles of push-button games, Flanery said previously. The numbers generated for the games are patterned off historical horse races that already were run, and players can receive background on the races while playing — though not enough to reveal the race or the results.


Churchill Downs CEO sheds more light on $60M gaming facility, Derby's huge TV showing

Jul 27, 2017, 2:15pm EDT

Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said Thursday that the company is finalizing the design for a $60 million historical-race wagering facility at its former Trackside training and simulcast wagering facility on Poplar Level Road in Louisville.

And he vowed it will be both “innovative” and “competitive,” teasing that it could be the start of something bigger for the company.

Last month, CDI (Nasdaq:CHDN) announced plans for the 85,000-square-foot facility, which will offer historical-racie machines — also known as instant racing — that model games on previously run horse races.

The company received conditional approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to establish historical race wagering during a meeting in Frankfort last month.

During CDI’s quarterly earnings call with investors and analysts Thursday morning, Carstanjen said the facility will initially be outfitted with 600 historical racing machines, which are similar to slot machines. If the facility proves successful, he said, the complex will be large enough to bring in more machines as needed.

One analyst asked Carstanjen whether this could be the start of multiple facilities of this type in the company’s portfolio. Although nothing else is planned now, Carstanjen said the company hopes more facilities like this one will follow.

In addition to the machines, the complex will have walk-up food venues with quick-service menus and a bar that will seat as many as 50 people alongside large televisions.

The project is expected to create 450 jobs, including 250 temporary construction jobs. The other 200 full- and part-time employees will operate and manage the facility.

Carstanjen said the goal is to have the facility open by late summer or early fall of 2018.

Bad weather but great ratings for Kentucky Derby

Miserable weather on Kentucky Oaks and Derby days in May prevented CDIfrom breaking live attendance records, but it didn’t dissuade the television viewing audience.

Carstanjen said the Derby earned its highest television audience since 1989, with a peak viewership of more than 19 million people. That was the highest Saturday afternoon television program since the NFL’s NFC divisional playoffs in early January, Carstanjen added.

And despite the bad weather, Kentucky Derby Week attendance this year was about 350,000. Last year’s Derby Week attendance was a record 376,980.

CDI sees revenues soar as Big Fish Games dips

CDI posted second-quarter record net revenue of $451.9 million, a 3 percent increase from a year earlier, and record net income of $78.3 million, a 12 percent increase from the prior year.

The company also reported record net income per share of $4.81, diluted, which was 17 percent higher than the previous year.

That came with increases in most of the company’s business segments. Racing net revenue was up about 6.6 percent, to $175.7 million, because of the boost from the Kentucky Derby. Casino revenue was up about 4.6 percent, to $88.3 million, because of a strong quarter in a few of the company’s properties.

But BIg Fish Games, the Seattle-based mobile and online video game company owned by CDI, saw a 10 percent decline in its overall net revenue, to $112.6 million.

The company said it anticipated the fall and attributed it to revenue declines for both its premium and casual free-to-play games. Social casino gaming purchases were actually up for the quarter.

Carstanjen said the company remains confident in its purchase of Big Fish Gamesand its offerings and believes it will generate a strong return on investment over time.

Marty Finley covers economic development, commercial and residential real estate, government and sports business.


Here's how much parking Churchill Downs is adding at the racetrack

Updated

Churchill Downs Racetrack is moving ahead with a plan to add new parking on land it recently acquired to the west of the track.

The property was bought as part of a recent round of land acquisition that cost $13 million or more for vacant lots, houses and commercial lots surrounding the facility, some of which have been razed.

Churchill Downs Racetrack general manager Ryan Jordan told me Tuesday morning that the plan calls for 100 more parking spaces at the racetrack, which has more than 4,000 existing spaces in and around the project area. Churchill Downs filed applications for the addition with Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services on Monday.

The new parking area will have numerous landscape islands outfitted with rainwater boxes to curb stormwater runoff and about 900 new trees to beautify the space. A perimeter fence will serve as a buffer zone between the roadway and the parking lot. Interior walking paths will be added to direct pedestrian flow from the parking lot to the racetrack’s entrances, Jordan said.

The fence will be designed to secure the parking area, particularly during off-hours and when racing is not active, according to the plans.

Churchill Downs asked the city earlier this month to close a grid of alleys and small streets between Churchill Downs properties on the west side of the track to accommodate the new parking. Those streets and alleys are bordered by Central Avenue to the north and Bohannon Avenue to the west, and the request is still pending, Jordan said.

Receiving authorization from the city to close those streets and alleys and gaining approval for the development plan will shape the construction timeline, though Churchill Downs wants to get started by October or November of this year and have some of the work done in time for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. The rest of the work should be completed in time for the track’s 2018 Fall Meet and the Breeders’ Cup in November 2018, Jordan said.

Costs are being worked out as the racetrack finalizes some of the design elements.

For instance, a vehicle maneuvering area and a promenade have been proposed to move visitors between the parking area to track entrances. The full scope of the promenade is under development, but Jordan said it will be equipped with a sidewalk wrapping between Gate 1 and Gate 10 to the parking area, providing a safe walking path to the track’s main entrances.

This is the latest in a series of new capital projects for the racetrack. The track is in the midst of a $37 million, three-story addition that will add 1,800 seats in luxury suites, dining areas and a third-floor grandstand. That development will be finished in time for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

And Churchill Downs announced a plan last week to allocate $60 million for construction of a historical race wagering facility in Louisville at its former Trackside training and simulcast wagering facility on Poplar Level Road. That facility could open next year.

The 85,000-square-foot facility will offer about 600 historical racing machines, also known as instant racing, that model games off previously run horse races. It also will have dining and bar venues.

Churchill Downs Racetrack is owned by Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. (Nasdaq:CHDN), which owns numerous racetracks and casinos across the U.S.

Marty Finley covers economic development, commercial and residential real estate, government and sports business.


Churchill Downs to spend $60M on new gaming facility in Louisville

Updated

Churchill Downs Inc. is investing about $60 million to build a historical race wagering facility in Louisville at its former Trackside training and simulcast wagering facility on Poplar Level Road.

The 85,000-square-foot facility will offer historical racing machines, also known as instant racing, that model games off previously run horse races. The announcement came after Churchill Downs (NASDAQ: CHDN) received conditional approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to establish historical race wagering during a meeting in Frankfort today.

“A state-of-the-art historic racing facility will allow us to deliver an exciting and compelling pari-mutuel product for our customers in Louisville,” Churchill Downs Racetrack president Kevin Flanery said in a news release. “This is a great opportunity for us to revitalize another area of our city while strengthening the commonwealth’s equine industry through larger purses and greater incentives for Kentucky breeders and owners. Stronger horse racing means a stronger Kentucky.”

In a phone interview following the announcement, Flanery told me Churchill Downs has been considering this option since the commission authorized historical race wagering several years ago, but it wanted to ensure it is competitive and can produce the type of facility the community will take pride in.

The facility will feature 600 historical racing machines, which are similar to slot machines, and a player’s club reward center. The reward center will offer perks for members, such as exclusive parking. And the complex will sport walk-up food venues with quick-service menus and a bar that will seat as many as 50 people alongside large televisions.

Construction of the facility will start later this year, and it is expected to open by the summer of 2018.

The project will create 450 jobs, including 250 temporary construction jobs. The other 200 full- and part-time employees will operate and manage the facility.

Churchill Downs said it will hire hourly and salaried employees in a number of designated areas, such as operations, marketing, finance, food and beverage, maintenance, information technology, human resources, security and administration. To find employees, job fairs will be held at the Trackside site and at Churchill Downs Racetrack.

Historical race wagering’s legality has been questioned at the state level for years, and a long-running court case challenging it remains pending in Franklin Circuit Court. Flanery said Churchill Downs’ general counsel has thoroughly reviewed the case and feels comfortable in moving forward on the facility.

Opponents have argued historical race wagering does not follow state regulations on gaming, but the option already has been adopted at Keenelandand The Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky Downs in Franklin and Ellis Park Racecourse in Henderson, according to this report by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Turfway Park in Florence also has been approved for the option, the report said.

Flanery said final approval for individual machines will be required from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and the racetrack will work hand-in-hand with the commission on floor layout and facility design.

This announcement comes in the midst of a very busy time for Churchill Downs. The company recently relocated its advance deposit wagering service, TwinSpires, from Mountain View, Calif., to the company’s corporate headquarters at 600 N. Hurstbourne Parkway in Louisville.

The move cost about $2.2 million for the office expansion, and it is expected to create about 100 high-paying jobs.

Likewise, a hum of activity is circulating at and around Churchill Downs Racetrack itself. The racetrack has started a $37 million three-story addition that will add 1,800 seats in luxury suites, dining areas and a third-floor grandstand. That development will be finished in time for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Churchill Downs also has spent more than $13 million scooping up properties around the track, some of which will be used to expand parking.


Churchill Downs has a plan to add more parking

Jun 7, 2017, 7:03am EDT

Churchill Downs Racetrack wants Louisville Metro Government to close several streets and alleys west of the track so it can expand its parking capacity.

WDRB.com reports that in an application filed with Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services, Churchill said the closures would allow for “substantial parking and landscaping enhancements” on the west side of the track.

WDRB reported last month that an affiliate of Churchill Downs Inc. (Nasdaq: CHDN) had bought nearly three dozen vacant lots, houses and commercial properties on three sides of the Central Avenue track, spending more than $13 million.

Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher told WDRB that track officials are trying to decide the best use for the property.

Churchill CEO Bill Carstanjen told WDRB last month that company officials hope the newly acquired property would “have a purpose beyond just parking,” but he declined to elaborate.


Churchill Downs creating nearly 100 Louisville HQ jobs by end of year

Updated

Ten years later, Twinspires has come back home to Kentucky.

Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. (Nasdaq: CHDN) has completed the relocation of the advance deposit wagering service from Mountain View, Calif., to the company’s corporate headquarters at 600 N. Hurstbourne Parkway in Louisville.

With the move, about 70 high-paying jobs already have been filled, and CDI has spent $2.2 million to outfit an additional 15,000 square feet in the building, which is in the University of Louisville’s ShelbyHurst Office and Research Park. The company now has 50,000 square feet in the building as its anchor tenant and is expected to create another 25 Twinspires jobs in Louisville by year’s end. The jobs pay $75,000 to $110,000.

With the relocation, Twinspires now has 208 employees in Kentucky, including 140 or so in leased office space in Lexington. Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said those jobs will remain in Lexington to keep a strong presence in the state’s two largest cities.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the jobs are new hires, as only six to eight of Twinspires’ California employees made the move to Kentucky, according to Twinspires officials.

The Twinspires relocation was first announced during an earnings call by Carstanjen last August, and he said Tuesday that the move has been a year in the making.

But the idea got its start in 2014, when company officials started discussing the long-term future of the wagering platform. Carstanjen and other CDI officials conceptualized and founded Twinspires with five employees in Louisville in 2007. At the time, Carstanjen was the company’s executive vice president, general counsel and chief development officer.

Carstanjen said the company was moved to California shortly after its was founded to take advantage of the talent pool and IT experience in Silicon Valley, saying he did not have confidence that Kentucky had the tech talent a decade ago to meet the company’s needs. Last year, $1.1 billion in total handle, or 10 percent of total U.S. wagering on horse racing, came through Twinspires.

But a lot can change in 10 years. Carstanjen said Louisville’s economic development activity has helped created a larger and more robust tech environment in Louisville. And he believes the local tech scene is flexible enough now to help Twinspires stay competitive.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin praised the move, saying it is a trademark example of the type of jobs he wants to come to Kentucky as he works to establish the state as an advanced manufacturing and engineering hub.

Bevin also said it is fitting that an old and storied company such as Churchill Downs is investing in high-tech jobs and a sleek, modern office in Louisville’s East End.

The governor said he will look back and measure success for his administration when governors of other states are scratching their heads and wondering why their residents are moving to Kentucky for job opportunities.

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, Louisville Metro Government’s economic development arm, also praised Churchill Downs for its expansion. She said the city’s business services division is the fastest growing sector for Metro Government and has long-term potential to create jobs that will attract this type of talent from across the country.

Carstanjen said the decision was nothing but “positive energy” and that California’s cost of living and more expensive tax structure were not major factors in the relocation.

But Bevin said the money that will be earned through these jobs will have more purchasing power for its employees to buy larger houses and invest in the city’s vibrant arts and entertainment scene.

“That’s good for Louisville, and it’s good for Kentucky,” he said.

During the news conference, Bevin was asked about the possibility of expanded gaming in Kentucky, particularly casino gambling. Bevin said there is “no political will” for casino gambling by the Kentucky General Assembly, noting that it would take legislative action to legalize such a concept.

Bevin, a Republican, noted that his predecessor, Democrat Steve Beshear, made casino gambling a significant goal for his administration but was unsuccessful in a friendlier legislative environment. Today, the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature.

Carstanjen and CDI long have supported expanded gaming in Kentucky, but he told me after the news conference that the company doesn’t waste its time dwelling on what’s not available. He said a lack of casino gaming in Kentucky has not slowed the company’s ability to harvest all the possibilities available to it here.

“If you worry about what you can’t change, it will drive you crazy,” he told me.

Today, CDI has grown to include several horse-racing tracks and casinos as part of its portfolio. The company also owns totalizator company United Tote Inc. and Seattle-based video game company Big Fish Games.

Nationwide, CDI has about 4,000 employees, 676 of whom are based in Kentucky, either at the corporate office, Churchill Downs Racetrack, Twinspires or United Tote. The company’s East End headquarters has 200 or more of those employees.

When asked, Carstanjen said it us unlikely any of Big Fish Games’ roughly 600 employees will join Twinspires in Louisville. The company was founded and cultivated in Seattle, its executive team has long called Seattle home, and it is a decidedly West Coast company.

The company also has a larger mass of employees in a city where game development talent is widespread.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Carstanjen said.

Marty Finley covers economic development, commercial and residential real estate, government and sports business.


In Person: Calhoun Construction's John Hinshaw tackles multimillion-dollar projects, back-country hiking and family in measured steps

May 17, 2017, 3:00pm EDT

The $238 million KFC Yum Center has become a fixture in downtown Louisville, and it also stands prominent in the mind of one of the people behind the construction of the 721,000-square-foot home to University of Louisville basketball, concerts and other events.

John Hinshaw was the was senior project manager for M. A. Mortenson Co., the general contractor for the Yum Center, when the arena was built about a decade ago.

Hinshaw says it is his favorite project, beating out other major sports arenas he helped oversee.

Despite the pressures of building a huge and intricate structure with a fixed deadline, Hinshaw wouldn’t do anything else, fueled by his sports fandom and love for creating.

“I just think building buildings is fun,” Hinshaw said in an interview.

Now, Hinshaw is the president of Louisville-based Calhoun Construction Services Inc.

He joined the company in September 2013 as the operations manager under then-president Kevin Harpring. Hinshaw became the president of the company in January 2016.

An Indianapolis native and big Indiana Pacers fan, Hinshaw jumped at the opportunity to work for Hunt Construction Group in 1997 to help build the Pacers’ then-new arena, Conseco Fieldhouse (now Bankers Life Fieldhouse). He’d graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in structures and a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering and management.

That appears to have set a precedent for Hinshaw’s early career and time with Hunt Construction.

He would go on to work on the building of Great American Ball Park for the Cincinnati Reds as a project engineer from fall 1999 to spring 2003.

He then went to work on the construction of the then-named Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., for the Charlotte Bobcats as a project manager.

He was lured away from Hunt Construction to Louisville by developer Steve Poe to work for Poe Cos. LLC in January 2006.

In 2008, Hinshaw was let go.

It was the height of the Great Recession of 2008 and construction companies were hit particularly hard by the economic downturn.

But Hinshaw had hope despite losing his job.

The Yum Center project broke ground in 2006, but news of the big project had broken much earlier.

With his background in building sports facilities, Hinshaw wanted to be a part of the project when he first heard about the new arena coming to Louisville. It was an obvious opportunity.

To add to the desire to get on-board with the local project, Hinshaw had gotten married to a Louisville native while at working at Poe.

Hinshaw said he knew that he needed a job that would keep him here.

“Louisville had become my adopted hometown,” he said.

As luck would have it, Hinshaw was hired by Minneapolis-based M.A. Mortenson and joined as senior project manager for the Yum Center in 2008.

While all the major projects Hinshaw has worked on have been unique, he said there were some special factors involved with Yum Center.

He said the people he worked with on the project were very talented and that they stuck together in the years since the Yum Center opened in October 2010.

“We had a great team of people on the (Yum Center) project … and a lot of the same people are here at Calhoun,” Hinshaw said.

After the Yum Center work, Hinshaw was approached by Wilhelm Construction Co. Inc. with the prospect of opening and managing a business in Louisville.

Wilhelm had been the concrete contractor on several of the arena projects he had helped to manage. He joined and helped to start Calhoun Construction — which has an office off Poplar Level Road just south of the Watterson Expressway — in 2013.

Of his work on arenas, Hinshaw said, “There is always a tight timeline with an opening event scheduled. That always makes it a pressure situation from start to finish.”

A delay in work on a multimillion dollar project that’s received a great deal of media attention could be catastrophic.

“You set up a project, design a schedule that will allow you to hit the construction milestone and have intermittent milestones to help you know if you are going to make your end goal on time and on budget,” he said.

For fun, Hinshaw takes a hiking trip with his friends from college once a year, every year.

This is no day trip with a picnic. These excursions are often six- to eight-day adventures in the back country that cover anywhere from 40 to 60 miles of wilderness.

This year, Hinshaw and his friends are planning a hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

He said that approaching a quest of this magnitude takes the same kind of disciplined planning and goal setting that a multimillion dollar project does.

“You break it down into smaller pieces that you can get your head around and manage it,” Hinshaw said. “A lot of times (while hiking), you have to get from A to B because there is water at B, and no water in between.

“It’s always a huge sense of accomplishment when you’re done. That first beer (after the trip) is very satisfying.”

Even as a parent, Hinshaw takes a similar approach and recognizes that every day presents its own challenges, but that identifying and reaching key milestones helps life make sense and helps establish the pace of where things stand. John and his wife Susan have three children under the age of 10.

“It’s a part of life everyone should experience,” Hinshaw said of being a parent. “It’s your chance to create, to be part of the next generations and hopefully influence people to be good people and be contributing members of the next generation.”

He took some time to answer a few more of our questions:

What is your favorite place for lunch?

Frank’s Meat & Produce on Preston Highway

What advice would you give young or new business leaders?

Pick a field and try to learn every aspect of the field.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Stay positive

What is your go-to outdoor spot?

Parklands of Floyds Fork

Is there any one project that you would consider yourself most proud of?

The KFC Yum Center

Biggest pet peeve?

Hearing someone say, “That is not my job.”

What do you listen to while in the car?

Talk radio or the Lithium station on satellite radio.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Walk in my house, and my three kids attack me with all of their energy.


John Hinshaw

President, Calhoun Construction Services Inc.

Age: 42

Hometown: Indianapolis

Resides: East Middletown

Career history: President, Calhoun Construction Services Inc., 2016-present and operations manager, 2013-16; senior project manager, M. A. Mortenson Co., 2008-13; Poe Cos. LLC, 2008-08; Hunt Construction Group, 1997-2006.

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering with an emphasis in structures and a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering and management from Purdue University, graduated 1997

Family: Susan Hinshaw, wife of 10 years; an 8-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy.

Hobbies: Back-country hiking


Renovations, William Walker highlight Spring Meet opening at Churchill Downs

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.


Renovations are making the Kentucky Derby even more posh

POSTED:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. >> Toni Goodman was close enough to see the horses kicking up dirt as they raced past, having spent a mere $5 for her trackside seat to an event just days before the Kentucky Derby.

But the 56-year-old Kentucky native won’t be anywhere near Churchill Downs on Saturday to watch the Run for the Roses.

“I think the Derby’s great,” Goodman said before the start of a claiming race featuring also-rans. “It lets people come in to see how beautiful our state is. It’s just not doable for me.”

One of the great sporting events has long been a world of contrasting styles, with a massive gulf separating the wealthy and famous preening on Millionaires Row from the T-shirt and jeans crowd in the infield. Major renovations completed in recent years, most of them geared toward well-heeled fans, seem to have put more distance between those worlds.

This year’s average ticket price to attend the Derby — a 2-minute horse race highlighting a full day of racing, partying and people watching — is $432, according to VividSeats.com. The Derby typically generates a brisk secondary ticket market as well.

The trend to offer high-end packages at sports venues reaches far beyond the Kentucky Derby. Any venue hosting a Super Bowl, World Series or even an All-Star Game creates an experience to cater to high rollers. New stadium construction often involves luxury suites, technology upgrades and other perks that cater to a high-income spectator. But such projects often face criticism that they squeeze out middle and lower-income fans.

Churchill Downs seems to burst at the seams on Derby Day, when more than 160,000 people pack into the venerable track and infield. Churchill’s parent company has pumped about $250 million into renovations since the early 2000s. The investment is meant to maximize revenue from the Derby and Kentucky Oaks, a race for 3-year-old fillies the day before the Derby.

This year’s $16 million upgrade modernized the second-floor clubhouse. The update includes a fresh Twin Spires Club Elite Gold Room exclusive to VIP bettors. It’s adjacent to an enlarged Champions Bar that includes covered balconies with table seating offering prime views of the paddock.

Such upgrades are geared toward fans willing to shell out big money for panoramic views, sumptuous buffets and access to betting windows and restrooms without lines. Options for premium seating seem almost as numerous as the field of Derby horses. Demand outpaces available seating, which has Churchill preparing for another expansion.

Work has started on the Starting Gate Suites, scheduled to open in time for the 2018 Derby.

The suites — being built above the third-floor grandstand — will feature private dining tables and a balcony overlooking the starting gate at the top of the homestretch.

Track officials said pricing is expected soon for the suites, the key part of the $37 million project that will boost Derby Day capacity by more than 1,800 seats.

“They’ll have a bird’s eye view,” said track General Manager Ryan Jordan.

Other upscale spots to watch the Derby include the Finish Line Suites, Turf Club, Jockey Club Suites and the most exclusive of all — The Mansion, a tony enclave perched on the sixth floor of the clubhouse.

Paul Amburgey and his wife, Linda, spend Derby Day like many other Louisvillians — at an off-track party. They come to Churchill a few times each race meet, but don’t even try to get Derby tickets. The reason: “The crowds, the cost,” Linda Amburgey said.

“They cater more to the big money,” her husband said. “Everything they’re building is for people who have the money to pay for all this new stuff they’ve got.”

Churchill officials point out that renovations have improved the Derby experience at all price points. People thronging to the infield pay less than $100 apiece for access to the daylong Derby party. People ordering 2017 infield tickets late last year paid $60 each. The price escalates to $80 at the gate. T-shirts, jeans or shorts are common infield attire, which distinguishes race-goers from the flowery hats and dapper attire across the track in the suites.

“There are people from all walks of life all over the track,” said track President Kevin Flanery. “Whatever party you want, we can throw it. And we can throw all of them on the same day.”

For more than a decade, infield ticket prices stayed the same at $40 apiece through 2012. Incremental increases have occurred since. Ticket prices have escalated elsewhere around the track in recent years, track officials said.

Track officials point to improvements in recent years to the grandstand and infield that added more restrooms, concession stands and betting windows.

The gigantic video board installed three years ago offers a living-room view for tens of thousands crammed into the infield, and many of them never glimpse at a horse during the day.

“We have improved the experience for pretty much every category of ticket customer,” Jordan said.

But the infield’s party-like atmosphere doesn’t appeal to Goodman, and the money she’d spend on Derby tickets elsewhere at the track would help pay her bills, she said.

A few sections away, track regular Mike Lee, 61, will be at a family party on Derby Day, as usual. He’s never attended the Derby but didn’t seem to mind. He was happy drinking a couple of beers and betting the horses on a day when the crowd was much smaller. The improvements catering to deep-pocketed fans didn’t bother him a bit.

“I don’t even worry about that stuff,” he said. “You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy yourself.”


KENTUCKY DERBY | Gov. Bevin A Fan of Churchill Downs Renovations

05/06/2017 02:59 PM

Churchill Downs recently completed its renovation of some parts of its legendary Clubhouse.

And Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is a fan.

“It’s stunning. It’s beautiful,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “It’s a first-class institution. It’s a first-class company. And the way in which they have continued every year to make this event even better and better for the guests that come is spectacular.”

There are so many new aspects to the Clubhouse, including new bars and lounges, but one thing stands out to Gov. Bevin.

“Just the way they’ve widened some of the hallways where people can move through,” said Gov. Bevin. “It’s just made it a lot more open and airy and accessible.”