It's impossible not to notice Churchill Downs' new "big board," which has been a major topic of conversation since the gargantuan video screen was unveiled opening night April 26.
Known as the only video board in an outdoor stadium or arena capable of displaying 4K ultra-high definition technology, the 171-foot-wide-by-90-feet-tall video board sits 80 feet above the ground and tops out at 170 feet in height.
"It's amazing in terms of size," said John Asher, Churchill vice president of racing communications. "I expected big and clear, but I never expected this big or clear. It has this community buzzing. It was a huge hit on opening night, in terms of the awesome size and clarity, and the technology is state-of-the-art, in terms of sharpness."
One of the goals behind the new big board is to enhance the infield experience for patrons, particulary for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"It won't display just horses and odds but present the entire Kentucky Derby experience—the red carpet, millionaires' row, and all aspects from fashion and food will be intertwined," Asher said.
The big screen is the size of three NBA basketball courts and displays more than 9 million pixels. Horses on the track will be shown 70 feet tall—more than 10 times life size.
"It gives us a lot of exciting options of further telling the story of what happens here and enhancing the experience for fans, while drawing in some new fans and getting them excited about coming back," Asher said.
The software and equipment that controls the big board allows for multiple split-screen presentations of video, images, data, and innovative live and recorded programming. Churchill has added full-1080i fixed and mobile HD cameras and a new audio system to deliver high-quality picture and sound to its fans.
Following the Derby, the big board will be used for other special events, such as concerts, conventions, and gatherings.
"Everything's on the table after the Derby," Asher said. "We need to sit down and think about what we'd like to do, and what the community would like to do, and go from there."
Churchill spent $12 million on the big board. The additional $17 million spent on its grandstand terrace project this year brings the track's total investment in facilities to $180 million since 2001. Past projects include improvements to corporate suites, millionaires' row, and the creation of the Mansion area on the sixth floor for elite guests.
The terrace seating area has two levels of 2,400 seats that were added last summer and brings the track's permanent seating to 55,638. The terrace area also includes nine new restroom areas, a food and beverage area, wagering positions, and a VIP section called Wicker Garden.
"One of the things I love the most about the terrace is the new seats," Asher said. "They're stadium-style flip up seats with a cup holder and they go right up to the starting gate at the head of the stretch by the quarter pole.
"So you're looking at those horses right in the eye as they come around the turn, and you've got the best view in the house. I'm pretty confident the people that bought them online last November are never going to want to give them up."
Churchill officials said the grandstand terrace area represents the first major upgrade to the part of the track closest to Central Avenue—and overlooking the Kentucky Derby starting gate—since the 1950s.
"We're not doing this for casinos or slot machines; we're building the church for Easter Sunday at Churchill Downs," Asher said. "You've got to be ready for the big show and these projects are as exciting as any.
"A large percentage of fans and patrons were not touched directly by our past projects, but they are going to be touched directly by (the big board and grandstand terrace).
"We think it's going to significantly raise the quality of the experience and get people excited about coming to the racetrack more frequently."