'Undercover' Churchill COO Gets TV Time

Churchill Downs Inc. COO went undercover for television program.

By Michael Fenrich

There are two distinct parts of a racetrack: the backstretch and the front side. Operationally, they need each other, but there's often a disconnect.

CBS has a new reality show called Undercover Boss, in which management from different companies “disguise” themselves as everyday employees and work with the employees. The endeavor is designed to get management insight on how to improve the company.

Churchill Downs Inc. chief operating officer Bill Carstanjen took part in the show, and his episode, filmed at Arlington Park and Calder Casino & Race Course last year, will air March 14 at 9 p.m. EDT on CBS. He suggested it was an eye-opening experience.

“Trying out all the different jobs and tasks was certainly a humbling experience but the best part was witnessing, while working side-by-side, the passion and dedication of all the employees that I got to work with,” Carstanjen said. “Finding out first hand that we share the same goals, such as truly wanting more fans to understand our passion about the horses and racing, was an exhilarating feeling.

“There were moments of anguish and pride, but the best feeling was to be able to enjoy this 10-day journey of filming, fun, and passion without my normal pressures of the COO work, which always focuses on the problems and having to make a difference and impact on so many.”

Carstanjen worked in various jobs at both tracks. He spent his share of time in the barn area.

“Without going into too much detail before the show airs, I can’t give away all the jobs I did and the improvements I plan to make, but one initiative I plan is a 'Walk a Mile in the Other People’s Shoes Day' at CDI properties,” Carstanjen said. “Not forgetting about safety or security, we expect to plan to have people switch roles to really appreciate and teach everyone from the front side to the backside what it takes to run a racetrack operation.”

Carstanjen said CBS approached CDI last year about the show, and the company saw value in participating.

“I visualized it as a way to show the world how great our employees are and what it takes to put on a day of races for the fans,” he said.

The first segment of Undercover Boss aired right after the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl Feb. 7. Other companies that have been featured on the program are Waste Management and White Castle.