Churchill Downs races to finish construction as spring meet appr - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Churchill Downs races to finish construction as spring meet approaches

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- With opening night just three days away, the finish line is fast approaching at Churchill Downs.

WDRB went behind the scenes to see the stretch run as the old track puts on a new face for the spring meet.

Around Derby time, hats are a huge fashion statement. But right now, at Churchill Downs, the hard hat is the most popular.
That's because construction workers have swarmed the track to finish the new 55,000 square foot Grandstand Terrace.

That's on top of the painting, primping and planting the track normally does before opening day.

"Not to say there's not going to be a couple of people with paint brushes out on Saturday for opening night or even Derby morning, but we'll be there, and we'll be ready," said Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher.

The track is also adding a new sound system and 400 new restroom positions - mostly for women.

"I've had some women tell me already it's still not enough, but we're moving in the right direction," said Asher.

Churchill Downs is working to make the 140-year-old track more customer-friendly, and turn it into a year-round destination.

"Adding revenue streams outside of live racing, outside of Derby and Oaks was a big part of the plan from the get-go," said Asher.

And then there's the Big Board - the 15,000 square-foot, high-definition video screen, which WDRB saw in action, showing horses thundering down the track.

"The images on that board are part of the experience you'll take home with you," said Asher.

It has certainly made racing more up-close and personal for the surrounding neighborhoods.

"It's fantastic. It really is. Every time I look down and see it, I'm like, wow!" said Stanley Quinn, who has lived near Churchill Downs for eight years.

As opening night approaches, activity is also picking up on the backside. The barns are filling not just with Oaks and Derby contenders, but other horses arriving for the spring meet.

"They're arriving daily. They want to get a good feel for the racetrack, make sure they're comfortable with it," said Asher.

But the big race is taking place in the construction zone.

"We know it's going to be a fast run through the home stretch, but it's the home of the Derby. You gotta have that," said Asher.

When the new construction is finished, Churchill Downs will have spent $179-million since 2001 to give the old track a makeover.

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