|Today's post covers a part of our tour of the Churchill Downs/Kentucky Derby Museum. I'll cover Churchill Downs today & the Museum next time. We started off our visit by taking the basic tour, which included a 45 minute walk of the grounds. Our guide was very knowledgeable and a past thoroughbred farm owner. She has a great love for this property and made it very interesting. We came away feeling that we would love to visit on a race day and have dinner in millionaires row which would give you a great vantage point to watch the race!
Now, on to a bit of facts & trivia on the property. Churchill Downs is a Thoroughbred racetrack most famous for hosting the Kentucky Derby annually. It officially opened in 1875, and held the first Kentucky Derby and the first Kentucky Oaks in the same year. The famous twin spires were commissioned in 1895 and the tradition of adorning the winner of the Derby with a garland of roses also began in 1895.
In early 1902, the operation of the track was turned over to Charles F. Grainger, then the mayor of Louisville, in an effort to move Churchill Downs away from being primarily known for gambling. The business had been floundering until this time when Col. Matt Winn of Louisville put together a syndicate of businessmen to acquire the facility. Under Winn, Churchill Downs prospered and the Kentucky Derby then became the preeminent stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses in North America.
During that early period, a new clubhouse was built in order to promote social interaction, and new events such as steeplechases, automobile races and band concerts were held at the track. The State Fair was held on the grounds, featuring the odd spectacle of two locomotives being intentionally crashed head-on in the infield.
On June 5, 1907, African American jockey James Lee set a record that has never been beaten when he won the entire six-race card at Churchill Downs.
In 1908, parimutuel betting machines were introduced as gambling began to be less controversial again, and the wagering portion of the track's business became more profitable.
Churchill Downs was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. From 2001 to 2005, Churchill Downs underwent a three-and-a-half year, $121 million renovation. The clubhouse was replaced, 79 luxury suites were added, and the historic twin spires were refurbished.
On Friday, June 19, 2009, Churchill Downs hosted its first-ever night race. Racing at Churchill Downs occurs in two meets. The spring meet starts one week before the Derby and continues until early July. The Kentucky Derby is held the first Saturday in May and the Kentucky Oaks is run on Friday, the day before the Derby. A fall meet picks up in late October and closes Thanksgiving weekend in late November. The usual number of people seated at the derby is 50,000 people, though crowds can reach over 150,000 on Derby day.
Last week Churchill Downs announced that it would be installing a new, high-definition video board to be operational in time for the 2014 Kentucky Derby. The video board will measure 171 feet wide and 90 feet high, with the bottom edge 80 feet off the ground. It will be constructed along the outside of the backstretch of the dirt course and will face the grandstand and infield. Churchill Downs officials say that it will be the world's largest high-definition video board ever constructed.
Well, that's it for this part of our visit. I'll pick up in the museum tomorrow. Have a great day & thanks for stopping by!