Part of Churchill Downs' improvements not ready for opening of s - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Part of Churchill Downs' improvements not ready for opening of spring meet

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --WDRB News has learned a portion of the Grandstand Terrace improvement project at Churchill Downs will not be ready for Saturday's opening of the spring meet at the historic racetrack.

"They're finishing up below the Grandstand Terrace," said Churchill Downs spokesperson Darren Rogers.

"Obviously we'd like to have everything go smoothly, but with the winter we've had we'll just adapt accordingly, but we're still on track to be done by Oaks and Derby."

Hundreds of construction crews are feverishly working to complete $26.5 million in projects designed to improve the race experience. The track put in the world's largest 4K video board, installed 750 speakers, as well as new restrooms, concessions and vendor spaces and the new Grandstand Terrace area.

"The first Derby I ever saw was in 1983," said J.R. Curtin, one of 75 Derby hosts at Churchill Downs.

"When they came back around the finish line, I realized I was standing on my chair, and I thought to myself, 'I will never ever miss this.'"

He has held true to that promise for the last 27 years. Churchill Downs pairs Derby hosts with horse owners, celebrities and other big time guests who visit Louisville for the greatest two minutes in sports.

"I get them down to the paddock and get them up there to their seats," Curtin explained. He's worked with two Derby winners. "It's unbelievable, it really is, I mean you're standing there with the owner and you realize what's going on -- that this is their dream and you feel it with them as if you own the horse," Curtin said.


On the eve of the opening of the spring meet, Curtin walks the grounds getting acclimated with the changes. Whether they're ready or not, Curtin says he will be there for the 140th Running of the Roses.

"We represent Churchill Downs, we represent the city, we represent the state and we represent racing, so that's important," he said.

Don't call him an usher. He's a host -- and that's a memory that lasts all year.

"It's huge. One's going to help you get to your seat. I'm going to help someone hopefully get to the winners circle."

The Derby host is a voluntary position -- they do not get paid and cannot take tips.

Churchill Downs opens Saturday at 4 p.m. for the spring meet.

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