Giant screen at Churchill Downs gives everyone at Kentucky Derby a front-row view

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 1, 2014 

  • More facts on the screen:

    Bigger than 5 average-size U.S. homes.

    Can display more than 281 trillion colors

    Has enough light-emitting diodes to decorate 203 Rockefeller Center Christmas trees, with 45,000 lights on each tree

    Built to withstand a Category 1 hurricane

    Weighs more than 1.2 million pounds

    Is 30 times brighter than a standard HDTV

    Has an average viewing distance of 1,000 feet

LOUISVILLE — If you've ever been to the Kentucky Derby and spent the most exciting two minutes in sports on your tiptoes, craning your neck to catch any glimpse of the race, relax. You won't have that problem any more.

Churchill Downs has installed a video board so big that its scale almost defies description.

First thing fans say walking up to the Downs from Central Avenue: "Look at that big ol' screen!"

Horses don't seem to notice, but they might be the only ones. Airplanes landing at the nearby airport could watch the race as they come in.

"An aircraft carrier" is how trainer Bob Baffert described the screen, which can be seen from downtown Louisville, if not Indiana.

Sure, you can know that it is 15,224 square feet of 4K ultimate high-definition glory. Or that it is 171 feet wide and 90 feet tall. But that doesn't really give you the scope, because there isn't much to compare it to.

"It's the size of three NBA basketball courts. Or 320,000 iphone screens," Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bob Evans said of what is essentially the world's largest flat-screen TV. (The poor Cowboys fans in Texas have only a 160-by-71-foot board at AT&T Stadium.)

(If you're watching the Derby at home, expect to see a lot of Panasonic commercials on this. They will be rolling out the 4K technology to home screens, too.)

How about this: Horses on the track will be shown 70 feet tall — more than 10 times life-size.

People in the infield — the "cheap seats" with no actual seat — will finally have a pretty good chance of seeing the race over the Porta-Potties: The "Big Board" is 80 feet off the ground, rising to 170 feet.

It's 50 feet taller than the Twin Spires themselves, according to Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers.

"Everyone will be able to see the race, from beginning to end," Evans said. "I don't think it will be too hard to spot your favorite."

Or your favorite star: Churchill wants to use the screen to show off things that are happening all over the grounds, things that people normally don't get to see from their seats.

Churchill's board has more than 9 million pixels, which means you could catch the slightest twitch of the reins in Calvin Borel's hands.

There are other upgrades: better sound systems and overall connectivity.

Churchill executives said they hope to have fans post selfies and pictures of their home Derby parties to the big board through the hashtag #kyderby on Twitter and Instagram. After thorough screening, of course — no 70-foot nudity, please.

Your real-time pictures will tile up on the big board "in a really big scale," said Ryan J. Jordan, Churchill Downs Racetrack general manager. So your Derby party could be at the Derby even if you are at home. How meta.

Churchill will be putting its best hoof forward, too: the track has had Van Wagner Big Screen Network filming special pre-Oaks and pre-Derby videos, complete with slow motion and music.

How about the races themselves? On a windy day, the camera swings could give you motion sickness. And once it gets dark, Steven Spielberg could film Close Encounters of the Third Kind by that light, critics say. Churchill says it is fine-tuning things.

One thing they got right: the infield.

"It puts them in the front-row seats," Evans said. "I think that's a pretty cool thing."

So the $12 million project, built in conjunction with Panasonic, is Churchill's move either to cater to the little people or to give rich high rollers with bad eyesight a better view.

Or maybe some of both.

Last year, Churchill debuted The Mansion, a $9 million, ultra-exclusive space for 300 "1 percenters" or their very lucky friends.

That helped the racetrack and casino company's bottom line so much that this year, Churchill has opened a new seating area — not as expensive or exclusive — the $14.5 million Grandstand Terrace, with 2,400 new (already sold-out) seats.

These fans will be right on the final turn, with no view of the finish line.

Except on the big board, just like everybody else.

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service