With silver handles shaped like antique keys bearing the letter "M" in the center, the doors to Churchill Downs' The Mansion open a whole new dimension of luxury for the track's most elite guests.
The facility, tucked away in an elusive area on the sixth floor of the racetrack that can only be accessed by private elevator, will treat elite race goers like royalty on Thoroughbred racing's two biggest days of the year. But the experience comes at a hefty price.
With its tickets ranging from $7,000 to $12,500, The Mansion—an area that formerly served as the Joe Hirsch Media Center—has been re-purposed to provide a select group of Kentucky Derby and Oaks Day guests with an opportunity "unlike anything else in sports," according to Churchill Downs officials.
The 8,000-foot space, which offers another 2,000 square feet on its balconies with a clear view of the track's finish line, was designed to accommodate 320 patrons. Tickets were available by invite-only for a personally tailored Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) package. For now, the experience is only available on Derby/Oaks weekend.
"The Mansion customers are a good mix of business leaders, CEO's, well-known celebrities, and obviously people that like to enjoy the finest amenities," said Darren Rogers, Churchill's senior director of communications and media services, during a brief media tour of the facility May 1.
"There are suites and clubs within stadiums, but the Mansion delivers a fine experience unlike any other with the best view of the racetrack. When you buy a suite at the Super Bowl on the 50-yard line, you are fixated on the field over a three-hour period with the exception of half time. But when you're enjoying a day at the races (in The Mansion), you have 40 minutes to an hour and a half between races where you can step out onto the balcony, and then retreat and enjoy visiting with others in this great environment."
Churchill Downs partnered with the company Legends Hospitality Management, which also serves the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees, to create The Mansion experience. In addition to spectacular views of the racetrack and plush seating, The Mansion tickets include an open bar and the services of Sarah Jayne Grueneberg, a finalist on the television show Top Chef and current executive chef of Spiaggia in Chicago. Grueneberg has created a "global menu" to accomodate guests.
"I think this is going to be a trendsetter for other major sports throughout the country," said Rogers of The Mansion, which is sectioned into different areas, including a library, parlor, veranda, and kitchen.
The rooms are accented by modern-style chandeliers, splashy modern art, marble floors, and overstuffed couches reminiscent of Las Vegas-style décor. "People are going to be talking...it's going to be an experience unlike any other event and I would not be surprised if others follow in our footsteps," Rogers added.
Churchill's general manager Ryan Jordan noted the theme of The Mansion is "past meets present."
"We've got a great, historical venue here, but we wanted to bring it up to modern times," Ryan explained.
The Mansion was designed by Los Angeles and Las Vegas-based The Friedmutter Group, working with Louisville architect company Luckett & Farley.
Funding for The Mansion was drawn from a $9 million budget Churchill had allocated for capital improvements over the past year. Additional projects include razing the paddock pavilion, opening up 30,000 square feet in the plaza area for general admission guests, and constructing the new media center, The Parlay, that doubles as a simulcast parlor during the track's off-season.
"Churchill has shown over the years that we will continue to invest in areas where we think there needs growth...since we re-did the grandstand in early 2000, we've invested more than $150,000 in the facility for upgrades," explained Rogers. "We'll continue to do that if we think it makes sense."