After the 2014 Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs was hit with backlash from some unhappy owners who felt they'd been given less than VIP treatment so the racetrack has a plan to fix that. Churchill announced Wednesday a $4.2 million renovation of its trackside owners' suites that will accommodate up to 18 people, compared with the six previous spots in an owners' box.
Churchill also is making the 18 tickets complimentary, compared with previous years when owners had the "opportunity to purchase" two additional six-seat boxes in another section.
The move was immediately hailed by owners on social media.
"Bravo Churchill!!! Good changes" and "Good news," tweeted Justin and Ahmed Zayat.
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The only bad news might be for anyone else used to sitting near the tunnel under the grandstand, prime real estate near the track that now will be the sole province of 20 lucky sets of horse owners on Derby and Kentucky Oaks days.
The "private, open-air, all-inclusive Winner's Circle Suites" will be under the Twin Spires between the 16th pole and finish line, and they will have their own trackside lawn area, their own betting windows, full-service food and drinks and — maybe best of all — their own bathrooms.
And they will have an easy way to get from the paddock to the seats and out on to the track, if they are lucky enough to win the Run for the Roses, a major step up from fighting the Derby crowd.
"There are many wonderful seating options at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks but these new Winner's Circle Suites are where anyone who has ever owned or dreamed of owning a racehorse wants to be," said Kevin Flanery, Churchill Downs racetrack president, in the release.
"We're thrilled to make this investment and truly thank our Derby and Oaks owners by creating an exclusive area that will provide more complimentary tickets, food and beverage and other extraordinary amenities than ever before."
But there will be fewer seats: total seating in the areas before renovation was 3,345, and the new space will accommodate more than 1,800.
Churchill said "select guests that are affected by the Winner's Circle Suites and Courtyard Project are in the process of being contacted personally by track officials, and every effort will be made to relocate those guests to a comparable area."
On other race days, the space will be "The Courtyard, a family-friendly green space" with its own ticketing. No prices were announced in the release.
The new Courtyard seats for Derby Week will be offered to existing customers first. Any remaining inventory will be sold to the public through an online sale in mid-November. The deadline to register for the online sale at KentuckyDerby.com/Tickets has been extended to Nov. 7.
Construction on the $4.2 million project will begin in December after the conclusion of the Fall Meet, and will be complete before the start of the 2015 Spring Meet on April 25.
Churchill Downs is working with the architectural firm Populous, headquartered in Kansas City, on the project designs. Populous designed downtown Louisville's innovative KFC Yum! Center.