LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It was before 5 a.m. when Andrew Cosentino and Kevin Niland arrived at Churchill Downs on Saturday, an early-bird strategy for securing a view of the racetrack.

They got it. By early afternoon, as the sun broke through after morning clouds and rain, the Chicago men had settled into a section of the infield overlooking the backstretch as horses got ready to race.

“This is the spot,” Cosentino said. “It’s worth it getting out here early.”

They paid $75 for general admission tickets for the infield and parts of the grandstand area. That price has gradually increased over the 15 years they have been attending the Kentucky Derby; Cosentino recalled paying $40 for infield access more than a decade ago.

The infield itself has changed since then. A giant video board allows races to be seen by nearly everyone at the track, while a phalanx of temporary luxury tents now lines the homestretch.

But, to Niland, the cost of a general admission ticket -- $80 on Derby Day this year, up from $60 in 2016 – still is worth it. “We’re here. We enjoy the day, the ambiance, the people. That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s a good day,” he said.

Nearby, Mark Perko remembered paying $10 to get into the infield in 1980 while a student at the University of Louisville’s dental school. A mint julep cost $3.25, and the infield now dotted with sponsor tents and other amenities was a spartan place.

“It was all mud,” he said. “It was pretty crazy.”

On Saturday, the same drink cost $14. Now living in northeastern Ohio, Perko was with friends who were attending their first Derby.

“Everything’s more expensive, but it’s an institution and I just look forward to coming whenever we can,” he said.

Besides a costlier Derby ticket, Churchill Downs also raised the prices of walk-up tickets for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks by $20, to $60.

The increases come as the track has invested heavily in renovations to and new facilities at the Central Avenue racetrack that are geared toward Kentucky Derby weekend, which draws the largest crowds of the year. The Derby set an attendance record of 170,513 in 2015.

Later this month, construction is set to start on the $37 million Starting Gate Suites that will add space for more than 1,100 people by next spring.

As the Oaks and Derby have grown, the track has acknowledged that it may need to someday limit the number of standing-room tickets. The 26-acre infield can fit roughly 70,000 people, according to Churchill Downs.

Among the infield crowd on Saturday was Anna Beth Burton of Hot Springs, Ark., who was attending her first Derby with a group of friends. They paid $75 each for their tickets online before coming to Louisville.

“I think maybe for that price you should at least be able to see the actual race better, instead of just the big screen,” she said, then paused briefly. “But it’s the Kentucky Derby, so I think it’s worth it.”

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