Sometime in the next two weeks, instant racing will be off and running at the Red Mile. But already the slots-like gambling machines are chiming away on the ground floor of the track's instant racing parlor, while upstairs in the simulcasting area bets are flying fast and furious.
That's a big change from the previous scene at the harness track, which often had lackluster crowds except on the biggest racing days.
"It's like they won the lottery," said Jill Cullen, who was working in a concession area nearby. The crowds, the life, the excitement are bigger now than what she remembered from her previous stint at the Red Mile years ago. "It's night and day."
Kip Cornett, spokesman for the joint venture between the Red Mile and Keeneland, compared the harness track to CentrePointe, the long-delayed development in downtown Lexington.
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"It wasn't a hole, but it might as well have been. It was a hole in the life of the city," Cornett said. "Now it's going to be part of a vibrant entertainment landscape."
Annie Allman, general manager of the racing and simulcasting facility, said that shortly after Labor Day on Sept. 7 the tracks plan to have two invitation-only test days and then will open the doors to the general public.
On Saturday, workmen were still tinkering with the 900 or so machines, many of which already display graphics for games like "Yukon Willie's Gold Rush," "Very Cherry," "Dancing Diamonds" and "Pigs in Mud!" The games are some of the same ones installed at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark.
While wood and tile are still being installed, the chairs and carpet were covered in plastic to protect the ribbon of red that will run through the new room at the front of the historic grandstand.
From the outside, the parking lot and landscaping are taking shape, with a new Red Mile sign lighting up the night sky.
From the simulcasting area, crowded with bettors for Triple Crown winner American Pharoah's race Saturday, people would wander over to peer down into the new gambling room.
"We've had a lot of interest," Allman said. "I don't think it was quite what people were expecting."
The $42 million renovation also has extended to the grandstand, which got a bit of face-lift, and to some kitchen upgrades in the clubhouse, which will see more changes soon, Allman said.
Allman has already lured an executive chef — Joe Hall, formerly of Nick Ryan's on Jefferson Street — to revamp the Red Mile menu, which now includes crowd-pleasers like pig wings and white chocolate blueberry bread pudding.
For the Breeders' Cup, which is at Keeneland on Oct. 30-31, the Red Mile will host the Breeders' Cup Bash, a sort of "poor man's party." For $10, patrons get in and get a program; they will be able to bet, buy food, watch the races and play the new gambling machines, if they can find a place to play.
"I think we'll have to cap ticket sales," Cornett said. "I think it will be that popular."