Churchill's new Mansion will have Charmin and champagne, but not you (probably)

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 1, 2013 

LOUISVILLE — Welcome to The Mansion. But don't get comfortable unless you're one of a very lucky — and probably very rich or famous or deeply interesting — few.

This is where you won't be on Derby Day. The media won't be there either. They used to be in the space that The Mansion now occupies. Churchill Downs moved the freeloaders out in favor of people "more accretive to the bottom line." Which is CEO sexy talk for making boatloads of money.

On Friday and Saturday, only about 300 people will get to take the secret elevator to The Mansion's guarded doors, graced with keys to remind anyone who is in doubt that the hoi polloi are locked out.

Inside, it is all marble floors, oversize leather ottomans and well-stocked bars. A bottle of 1998 Krug Blanc de Blancs Clos du Mesnil champagne will set you back $2,400.

For a mere $7,000 to $12,500 per person, depending on amenities and the number of tickets bought.

But that's for Oaks and Derby.

Sold out. Invitation-only.

You didn't get yours? Blame Churchill — it approved the guest list.

The idea, said Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers, is "to provide a sporting experience like no other."

Patrons of various walks of life — CEOs, moguls, celebrities, star athletes — mix and mingle, share a little hand-rolled potato gnocchi with wild boar ragù, drink a little Woodford Reserve, and never have to rub up against the masses.

Because as nice as The Mansion is, what people are really paying for is the second-rarest thing at Churchill on Derby Day: room.

"It's a big, exciting space," Rogers said.

While the other 165,000 people at the Downs on Saturday wait in line for a mint julep, a restroom, something to eat, a souvenir, a betting window, an entrance, an exit (and never mind a view of the horse race itself), those in the Mansion will have 8,000 air-conditioned square feet to roam — and an additional 2,000 square feet of viewing balcony.

Forget the little things that are better (the toilet paper is Charmin, the balcony rails are polished wood). There are actual places to sit, something those in the infield have to bring in themselves.

This is what The Mansion customers are used to, Rogers said. A home away from home for those whose home is a mansion already, maybe. And Churchill thinks that premium experience is something patrons crave.

"I think this is going to be a trendsetter for other major sporting events," Rogers said.

The Mansion was built right on the finish line as part of Churchill's $9 million renovation last year that included tearing down the Paddock Pavilion and renovating the former corporate office space for a simulcasting center/media center.

The move is part of Churchill's efforts to maximize profits during the only week of the year that chairman and CEO Bob Evans has said makes money for the track: Derby week.

"This is the best view in sports," said Ryan Jordan, general manager of Churchill Downs racetrack.

So in the bottom-line analysis, the media had to move. Has any news outlet not come back this year because they lost the finish-line view?

According to Churchill officials: No.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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