For decades, if not for the past 141 years, racing fans have looked with envy upon a coveted section of seats in the Churchill Downs grandstand, where only 20 sets of lucky horse owners could sit.
Section 318 held the boxes reserved for the owners of horses in the Kentucky Derby.
But in recent years, owners have let it be known that — prime real estate or not — the green metal folding chairs left something to be desired, especially compared to the invitation-only plush Mansion that Churchill created two years ago in rarefied air above the finish line.
And it wasn't all sour grapes from the people whose horses didn't win. Last year, Steve Coburn, co-owner of winner California Chrome, lashed out at Churchill Downs, saying the track needed to take a page from Pimlico's book on how to treat owners.
"I'm serious about this. I'm a serious as a heart attack," Coburn said after his horse won the Preakness. "We got to Churchill and not only did I complain, but there were other trainers, owners, and even jockeys complaining about the way they were treated."
The comments stung, but Churchill already had a $4.2 million renovation in the works. On Wednesday, the media got a preview of the new owners suites and the Courtyard, an open lawn-like area (covered in artificial turf for now) that will hold temporary seating on Kentucky Oaks and Derby days.
Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack, said track officials asked owners of all the Derby and Oaks horses last year what they were looking for, what the track could do better, and how things could be improved.
"The great thing about the Derby is it has so many different experiences," Flanery said. "Some people will want to be on Millionaires' Row; some people will want to be on the rail. Some people want to be in a box. We've tried to take elements of all of those experiences — box, catered food and beverage, on the rail, under the spires — and create an experience that takes many of those elements and combines them."
The primary driver was "to create a spectacular experience for Oaks and Derby and for the rest of the year," he said.
So they carved out 20 extra-large boxes (plus one for NBC, which has television rights, to have an interviewing area), on both sides of the horse tunnel and right under the famous Twin Spires.
Each box accommodates 18 people, which will let Derby horse owners, who have paid a minimum of $50,000 just to enter a horse in the race, bring more friends to share their big day. Before, they got only a box of six seats and the right to buy eight more in another location. They can still buy an extra box on the third floor if they choose.
The new owner boxes have eight stadium-style seats outside and eight or so more under cover that are a nicer sort of patio furniture.
There are other amenities: Each "suite" will have its own betting machine, and there are shared chef's tables and "robotic bartender" drink-dispensing machines.
Inside, in a private area that the owners will share with the 600 or so people who will have seats on the Courtyard lawn areas, there will be more food, betting machines and two bathrooms.
In case you were interested, we're sorry to tell you that Courtyard seating is sold out for Oaks and Derby at $1,200 a ticket for both days combined.
There is a staircase and a walkway so owners can go from one side of the horse tunnel to the other and visit. And the whole thing wraps around the regular winner's circle, now branded with G.H. Mumm, Churchill's official champagne.
"Everything's laid out to have convenient access throughout," said Ryan Jordan, Churchill Downs general manager.
Each box will be adorned with an owner's silks, so fans can see where the winning connections are. The suites will be assigned according to each horse's post position.
The accommodations aren't plush compared to the track's other indoor rooms, but they do have something that the others can't offer: access.
The owners will be able to go from track to paddock to seat — and to the winner's circle should they be so lucky — without having to elbow through the overwhelming Derby Day crowd of 160,000 or so.
On other days, Churchill Downs will let others buy tickets to some of the most coveted seats in the house.
Jordan said he thinks owners will like the new digs.
"It's a great location, convenient, ... it's a large area, with comfortable seating with a great view of the racetrack and the big board," he said. "We've tried to take into account all the different elements that go into a great Derby experience. And we think they'll really like it."
"The owners, the connections, they want to be out, in and among the experience. They want to see the horses go right down the stretch in front of them to the finish line," he said.
Especially if the right one is in front.