The Maker's Mark Lounge at Keeneland was supposed to be a great place to sip premium bourbon and watch the best races in the world. Instead, on the first day of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, it left a bad taste in the mouths of some racegoers.
By the middle of the afternoon, tempers had calmed and patrons were focusing on their race picks.
But it wasn't that way early on. Patrons who got to the tent early Friday apparently were told that they were allowed to sit at any table. But just before the races began, an announcement over the loudspeaker informed them that they would have to move.
A chorus of loud booing broke out, and Kentucky State Police officers moved in, going table to table and checking tickets. Those who didn't have tickets for reserved seats were politely asked to move. Not many were eager to go.
Von Anderson of Louisville, who paid $550 each for five seats for the two days, said he and his friends weren't moving. They were in line by 9:30 a.m. to get a place, he said.
"They said it was first come, first served," Anderson said. "We felt this venue was one of the best places to actually see the races."
One of his friends, Amanda Jensen from Austin, Texas, said they've been to every Breeders' Cup since 1992 and have never experienced anything like this.
"We were excited, because we have never been to Lexington, and this was all that was available to us," Jensen said. "This is a big black eye."
Breeders' Cup spokesman Jim Gluckson said affected patrons were being offered admission refunds; there was no immediate count of how many people asked for them. A Breeders' Cup statement said the problem was caused by a communication error with an external staffing group.
Apparently half of the space — one side of the lounge — was reserved seating, with two prime window-side tables set aside for Maker's Mark, the lounge's sponsor. But Rob Samuels, chief operating officer of Maker's Mark, said his company wasn't running the venue and knew nothing of the debacle.
Keeneland vice president Vince Gabbert said the track stepped in and offered upgraded seats for Friday to those who had been displaced.
"We're doing everything in our control right now to try to mitigate these issues. We apologize greatly for the inconvenience that's been caused," Gabbert said.
He blamed miscommunication between ticketing and outside catering and said the problem would be fixed for Saturday.
Many racegoers ended up with much more expensive tickets to loge boxes and other prime seating in the grandstand or dining rooms.
More seats were brought to the lounge, which was supposed to have seating for 3,000. Extra tables were set up outside for more people.
Jensen, who said Gabbert said her group could stay put, said she was glad that Keeneland fixed things and felt like they had made a nice recovery.
"Keeneland made things right," she said.