Josie Delfino, owner of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) entrant Wildcat Red with her husband, Salvatore Delfino, is the latest industry member to speak out about her recent experience at Churchill Downs.
Delfino, whose family is from Venezuela, said she greatly anticipated her trip to Louisville to experience the Run for the Roses for the first time, but ended up being greatly disappointed. She decided to share her experiences following the public statement made by Steve Coburn, part-owner and breeder of California Chrome about hospitality following the horse's Preakness Stakes (gr. I) victory.
"(Churchill) was terribly organized," Delfino said. "If we had the opportunity to take another horse to the Derby next year, we may send the horse, but we wouldn't go. I'm not going to go through all that hell again. It wasn't just one thing (Churchill did wrong). It was everything. They need to make a lot of changes."
Delfino said she spoke with a Churchill employee in the weeks leading up to the Derby, but rather than make sure Delfino was well-informed about her impending trip, the employee pushed her to buy more boxes and tickets for Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Derby days.
Delfino said she felt like Churchill was more concerned about her spending money than making sure she was taken care of as a Kentucky Derby horse owner. She also said she felt misinformed about all the seating and box options that were available.
She was additionally disappointed that no hotel rooms were blocked off for owners. Delfino assumed Churchill had fulfilled this task, but found out a week before they hadn't, so she had to scramble to find a last-minute hotel that she described as "terrible."
On Kentucky Oaks day, after paying more than $1,000 for a box, Delfino said she and her family had to eat in a fast food-type area with no seating available. The Derby day dining situation wasn't much better in the opinion of Delfino, who said the food quality was poor.
"I felt like we were in exactly the same position as the people around me that weren't owners," Delfino said. "The treatment was no different. It was so badly organized; my husband was so disappointed."
Delfino said the guide that was supposed to come to their hotel Oaks morning to explain the transportation process and everything they would need to know about getting around at Churchill never showed up. He instead gave all the information to their trainer, Jose Garoffalo, who took time out of his schedule to provide transportation and show them around.
Delfino said the worst part of the Derby was after the race when the vehicle they had hired to transport them from the racetrack to their hotel failed to show up.
"I asked the cops where we could get a taxi and they directed us to the other side of the racetrack," Delfino said. "I think I must have walked 20 blocks in high heels, following my husband and trying not to get lost because there were thousands of other people going the same way.
"There was no attention on us whatsoever. We felt like the rest of the bunch. We were just another number–nothing special. Churchill makes so much money on Derby weekend that I wouldn't think it would be a big deal to give the owners better treatment. We didn't feel invited at all."
When told of the Delfinos' concerns, Churchill responded with a statement that indicated it would look into the matter.
"We regret that Mrs. Delfino had an unhappy experience at Churchill Downs during her visits for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks," said John Asher, Churchill Downs vice president of racing communications. "Our team is following up on her comments, and we appreciate that she has shared them.
"We are always looking for ways to improve the experience of our guests for the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, and every day they visit Churchill Downs, and we will use what we learn to further strengthen our hospitality efforts."