by Kathleen Adams
Construction crews at Churchill Downs are working double shifts in an effort to complete the steel skeleton of the racetrack's new six-story clubhouse before the start of the fall meet Oct. 26.
John Asher, vice president of racing communications at Churchill, said work on the $95-million project hasn't suffered any serious setbacks and is ahead of schedule. He said patrons shouldn't experience any major inconveniences due to the construction when they visit the track during the 27-day fall meet.
"Our job is to convince folks to give us a shot," Asher said. "If they give us a shot, it'll be OK."
Work on the front portion of the first two floors of the new structure should be completed by next year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Currently, there are only 20,000 seats available for the 2003 fall meet. About 8,600 are box seats. Still, Asher doesn't anticipate any seating problems.
"Our largest crowd last fall was roughly 15,000," he said.
One thing patrons are sure to notice is a lack of a finish-line view. The second phase of the $121-million reconstruction is focused on the area that formerly stood directly in front of the finish line.
"Nobody is going to have the finish-line view they had last year because it doesn't exist anymore," Asher said.
Asher said racing officials and the media are to watch the races from a modular trailer located outside of the steel structure. "They will be the only folks with a finish-line view," he said.
Patrons who drive to the racetrack will find the usual number of parking spaces, but only one entrance to the track will be open. They must now enter the facility through Gate 1. A shuttle bus will take visitors from the Longfield parking lot to Gate 1.
While construction at the site hasn't been hampered by any significant glitches, Asher acknowledged the project has run into a few problems. For instance, horsemen at the track have seen their training hours reduced during the last few months.
"It was not an ideal situation," Asher said. "But it has worked. And the horsemen realize they have a big stake in this as well."
And, at one point, concrete found its way into the racetrack's sewer system.
"It was up around the first turn," Asher said. We had to clean that out because that's our drainage on the racetrack. It was a matter of cleaning up and patching things up."
Completion of the new clubhouse is slated for early 2005. Once it is finished, it will house a new Turf Club, press box, kitchen, and 15 finish-line suites.