Churchill Downs Logo
|Location||Louisville, Kentucky, United States|
|Owned by||Churchill Downs Inc.|
|Screened on||NBC (Kentucky Derby)|
|Notable races||Kentucky Derby
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic
Stephen Foster Handicap
Churchill Downs, located on Central Avenue in south Louisville, Kentucky, United States, is a Thoroughbred racetrack most famous for hosting the Kentucky Derby annually. It officially opened in 1875, and held the first Kentucky Derby and the first Kentucky Oaks in the same year. Churchill Downs has also hosted the renowned Breeders' Cup on eight occasions, most recently in 2011. Churchill Downs Incorporated owns and operates the racetrack.
The track is named for John and Henry Churchill, who leased 80 acres (320,000 m²) of land to their nephew, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. (grandson of explorer William Clark). Clark was president of the Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Park Association, which formed in 1874. His father-in-law, Richard Ten Broeck, was an accomplished horse breeder and trainer, and introduced Clark to horse racing, attending the English Derby at Epsom Downs outside London.
Churchill Downs filled a void in Louisville left by the closing of Oakland and Woodlawn, two earlier race courses. The then-rural location was located along Louisville and Nashville Railroad tracks, allowing for easy transport of horses. Clark, who preferred longer races to the relatively short ones that had become popular by the 1890s, was running short of funds, and in 1893 sold the track to a syndicate led by William Applegate. The new ownership would soon institute many changes, such as shortening the length of the signature race to its modern 1¼ mile (2 km), commissioning the famous twin spire grandstand in 1895, and adorning the winner of the Derby with a garland of roses, a tradition that also began in 1895.
In early 1902, Applegate turned over operation of the track to Charles F. Grainger, then the mayor of Louisville, in an effort to move Churchill Downs away from being primarily known for gambling. The business had been floundering until this time when Col. Matt Winn of Louisville put together a syndicate of businessmen to acquire the facility. Under Winn, Churchill Downs prospered and the Kentucky Derby then became the preeminent stakes race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses in North America.
During that early period, a new clubhouse was built in order to promote social interaction, and new events such as steeplechases, automobile races and band concerts were held at the track. The State Fair was held on the grounds, featuring the odd spectacle of two locomotives being intentionally crashed head-on in the infield.
In 1908, parimutuel betting machines were introduced as gambling began to be less controversial again, and the wagering portion of the track's business became more profitable.
Churchill Downs was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
On Friday, June 19, 2009, Churchill Downs hosted its first-ever night race.
Churchill Downs has now ventured into the music business, organizing the inaugural HullabaLOU Music Festival, held on the weekend of July 23–25, 2010. The track had planned to make this an annual event to compete with other summer music festivals. However, due to what was perceived as lower than expected ticket sales and complaints from concert goers over seating and the brutal heat, it has been decided that the festival will not return in 2011. Despite selling more than 78,000 tickets for the three-day event, it failed to turn a profit, losing over 5 million dollars for the now defunct Churchill Downs Entertainment group. Besides the heat and poor seating, many blamed the lineup of artists, calling them "washed up acts from the state fair circuit." While headliners Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, and Kenny Chesney drew large crowds, other acts that filled slots during the day did not.
On Wednesday, June 22, 2011, an EF2 tornado hit the Louisville area, striking the stables and chapel at Churchill Downs, though only at EF1 intensity at the time. Several stables were badly damaged, as was the chapel. Over 200 horses had to be evacuated from the damaged stables and be relocated to other stables that were not damaged by the tornado. The tornado did not cause any damage to the iconic twin spires or the clubhouse.
The twin spires atop the grandstands are the most recognizable architectural feature of Churchill Downs and are used as a symbol of the track and the Derby. They were designed by architect Joseph Dominic Baldez and built in 1895. Today, Churchill Downs covers 147 acres (0.59 km2). The usual number of people seated at the derby is 50,000 people, though crowds can reach over 150,000 on Derby day. The dirt oval main track, on which the Derby is run, is one mile (1.6 km) in circumference and is 79–80 feet (24.1–24.4 m) wide, with a 120-foot-wide (37 m) section for the starting gate. A turf track, inside the main track, is 7⁄8 mile (1.4 km) in circumference and 80-foot (24 m) wide.
From 2001 to 2005, Churchill Downs underwent a three-and-a-half year, $121 million renovation. The clubhouse was replaced, 79 luxury suites were added, and the historic twin spires were refurbished. One of the additions in the clubhouse was a 36-foot (11 m) mural by Pierre Bellocq depicting all 96 jockeys to win the Kentucky Derby from 1875 to 2004. In summer 2008 the same artist added another mural depicting all of the trainers and updating the Jockey's painting, adding Calvin Borel and Edgar Prado to it. The new design has been somewhat controversial since the new suites block full view of the spires from most angles. The tips of the spires are still the highest parts of the facility, albeit just barely now.
Racing at Churchill Downs occurs in two meets. The spring meet starts one week before the Derby and continues until early July. The Kentucky Derby is held the first Saturday in May and the Kentucky Oaks is run on Friday, the day before the Derby. A fall meet picks up in late October and closes Thanksgiving weekend in late November.
In addition to the track, clubhouse and stables, Churchill Downs also contains the Kentucky Derby Museum which focuses on the history of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. The museum also contains a number of exhibits exploring the training and racing of thoroughbred horses. It includes a 360-degree cinema that shows the short film "The Greatest Race," a documentary about the Kentucky Derby. The museum is normally open year-round.
In October of 2013, Churchill Downs announced that it would be installing a new, high-definition video board to be operational in time for the 2014 Kentucky Derby. The video board will measure 171 feet wide and 90 feet high, with the bottom edge 80 feet off the ground. It will be constructed along the outside of the backstretch of the dirt course and will face the grandstand and infield. Churchill Downs officials said that it would be the world's largest high-definition video board ever constructed.
- John Asher (1997–1998 the paddock show, CD Today a handicapping show 2007–present)
- Mike Battaglia (1997–2007 full-time, 2008–present fill-in)
- Donna Barton Brothers (1999–2002)
- Jill Byrne (2004–2007 fill-in, 2008–present full-time)
- Jessica Pacheco (2007 Derby week)
- Joanne Jones (2007 Derby Week)
- List of attractions and events in Louisville, Kentucky
- List of graded stakes at Churchill Downs
- Road to the Kentucky Derby
- Road to the Kentucky Oaks
- Kentucky Derby Festival
- Kentucky Derby top three finishers
- Kentucky Oaks top three finishers
- Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing
- "June 22, 2011 Storm Damage Survey". NWS Louisville. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
- Lovan, Dylan. "Tornado strikes Kentucky Derby's historic home | Horse racing | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle". Wayback.archive.org. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
- "Derby Has Become A Carnival Of The Bizarre". Billyreedsays.com. 2006-05-02. Retrieved 2009-07-13.
- Asher, John (2013-10-7). "Churchill Downs Gets the Big Picture: Teams with Panasonic for $12 Million High Definition Video Board" (Press release). Churchill Downs Communications. Retrieved 2013-10-8.
- Thomas, Samuel W. 1995. Churchill Downs:A Documentary History of America's Most Legendary Race Track
- Schriener, Bruce. 2005. Historic track unveils $121 million facelift. Associated Press. April 28.
- Churchill Downs website
- Churchill Downs Ticket Office
- Kentucky Derby website
- Kentucky Oaks website
- Churchill Downs track page, NTRA