Patrons accustomed to a bird's-eye view of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) from Millionaires' Row will instead be watching from the infield this year as a consequence of Churchill Downs $95 million clubhouse renovation.
With the top three floors of the clubhouse unavailable this year because of the ongoing construction, Churchill Downs will build a luxury pavilion in the infield that will accommodate 3,500 people. The tent will take up about four acres of the 25-acre infield.
Churchill expects to have 54,015 reserved seats for the 130th Kentucky Derby May 1, a loss of just over 300 from the previous year.
John Asher, vice president of communications for Churchill Downs, said most of the first three floors of the clubhouse will be used. The boxes against the rail on the finish line are gone, but about 1,800 fans will be moved to 300 temporary first-floor boxes.
"For most folks we're expecting it to be a fairly normal experience," Asher said. "Most of the boxholders are in the same spot or very close."
Seats for fans located in the upper-floor dining areas, which will not be completed until next spring, will be moved to the Jockey Club Suites and Infield Hospitality Village.
To make room for the infield pavilion a section of infield bleachers was removed. The tent will also include an observation deck that can hold 1,500 people.
All 64 luxury suites added during the two phases of construction will also be available this year. Only one of the three floors were available last year.
Two 18-by-36 foot video screens were also placed on either side of the tote board.
"We're pretty much right on schedule and where we want to be," Asher said. "It should be a normal Derby and Oaks. That's our goal, to make it as routine as possible for everyone."