Crew works year-round to make Churchill Downs bloom - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Crew works year-round to make Churchill Downs bloom

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) There are preparations for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks that have nothing to do with horses. There's one spot at Churchill Downs that's so hidden you might not even know about it.

300,000 visitors will walk through the gates over the weekend, taking in the beauty that is Churchill Downs.

"We're at the Churchill Downs greenhouse. It's kind of on the backside of the track, 12,000 square feet of growing space," Matt Bizzell said, Director of Horticulture at Churchill Downs.

The small team works year-round so race fans can take it all in, if only for a moment.

"A lot of people don't realize that we do it all in house. We've had a horticulture department here for well over 100 years," Bizzell said.

25,000 plants grow there for the Derby. "We push out right around 100 varieties every spring."

Planting starts at the end of the summer.

"These come in these little tiny plants in January and we pot them up into these pots."

Three months later, it's time to put them into the ground, just in time for the big day.

"Draw your eye in, not only up close, but also from a camera view. So, we're trying to get things that are bold, textural and really stand out."

The team started planting a week early this year, thanks to a warm spring.

"We have bread and butter flowers that we use every year, things that are proven to do well for us for Derby."

It also adds new flowers every year.

"I hope that they see the care and the love that goes into it. It brightens up all the little areas of Churchill. It just gives more character and richness to the experience."

It's been all hands on deck these last few weeks, all behind the scenes, for a brief window when the world watches. 

"Churchill is so important to Louisville and to horse racing and to Kentucky. So, to put a mark on it that's as important as the flowers is an honor for me."

Employees said Oaks Day is their longest. In addition to taking care of the flowers, they clean up after crowds until midnight and have to be right back to the track on Derby morning.

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