In less than four weeks, people will be sitting in the grandstand at The Red Mile watching the annual Junior League Charity Horse Show. And they will expect to be able to park, sit down, buy food and drinks, and use the bathrooms. Not to mention stable 800 to 1,000 horses on the site.
The thought just about makes Shannon Cobb hyperventilate.
"The contractors say they will be ready," Cobb, the Red Mile's chief financial officer, said Wednesday, as she and track representatives gave "hard hat" tours to media and others to show the state of a $30 million renovation, called the Evolution of Horse Racing on giant banners.
The track is partnering with Keeneland to open a facility with 900-plus terminals for historical wagering, or instant racing as it is known.
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In the process, it will renovate the entrances and parking lots and add 75,000 square feet to the grandstand, including 35,000 square feet of simulcasting wagering space that will be shared with Keeneland.
The harness track plans to open for simulcasting on July 16, and the track's standardbred meet will begin as scheduled July 26 and run through the first few weeks of October for the annual Grand Circuit.
On Oct. 1, the first floor instant racing parlor will open, and if that isn't ambitious enough, the whole place must be in tip-top shape by Oct. 30 and 31 for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships across town at Keene land.
This week, Breeders' Cup Festival officials announced that The Red Mile would be the venue for the Breeders' Cup Bash, where people who can't get into Keeneland may go to eat, drink, watch the races and — most of all — bet.
Neither Keeneland president Bill Thomason nor Red Mile president Joe Costa had any projections for what the Red Mile handle might be, but they anticipated it could boost significantly the overall host track numbers for the championships.
Costa said Wednesday that the renovations were "about keeping a heartbeat out here" at the harness track, which has struggled for the past few decades despite its proximity to downtown Lexington and the University of Kentucky campus.
Revenue from an anticipated $2 million a day in wagering on instant racing will pump lifeblood back into the sport of horse racing, he said.
"This is a project that's been a long time coming, so you can see we're really excited to get this close and get open for business," Costa said. "This is a piece of ground in a district that's in the process of evolving."
The Red Mile is evolving, too. Harness racing has struggled to appeal to new fans, and the hope is that instant racing can lead to crossover interest in live races, Costa said. Once revenue begins to flow from the machines, purses for the races will be increased, and track officials hope to add racing dates eventually.
The look of the addition is an homage to trotting, with entrances graced by red archways that suggest the sulky frames used in harness racing, said architect Joey Nolasco of integrity/Architecture.
And there are other efforts to preserve the history of the site, which has been a harness track since 1875: the horsemen's lobby, which leads straight through the grandstand to the apron of the track, remains. As does the nearby Round Barn, a historic site in itself.
The exposed red brick of the most recent grandstand (two previous versions burned down) remains exposed and probably will be painted.
And at the front of the property, a new road called Grand Circuit Drive, in honor of the prestigious meet, will split to go around a 300-year-old bur oak tree.
Next year, the track's clubhouse will be renovated, too, once officials have a better grasp of what patrons will be looking for.
"This is about a revitalization, about a reintroduction of The Red Mile to Lexington," Nolasco said.