Churchill Downs is ready to raise the curtain Saturday on the opening of a 53-day spring meet that serves as both the unveiling of its glittering new clubhouse completing the track's historic $121 million renovation and the opening of Kentucky Derby Week.The 131st and at $2 million, the richest running of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) is May 7. An 11-race card on April 30 focuses the first day of racing conducted at the Louisville track following the completion its largest capital improvement project since a grandstand topped by the track's famed Twin Spires was completed in 1895. The 3 ½-year project began with a $26 million first phase, which included the construction of three floors of Jockey Club Suites that were completed in September 2003. The $95 million second phase began in July 2003 with the demolition of a large section of the Churchill Downs clubhouse, all six floors of which have been rebuilt and will be reintroduced to racing fans as a state-of-the-art racing and entertainment facility that will operate year-round.
"There have been many special days in the long history of Churchill Downs, but few have been more significant than the opening day of our 2005 spring meet," said Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs. "Our team at Churchill Downs is looking forward to welcoming our patrons into the spectacular new spaces that offer something special for everyone. We believe those patrons will love those new facilities at Churchill Downs, but we hope they will be even more impressed by the guest service offered in every area of our track." Saturday's program is highlighted by the 81st running of the $100,000 Derby Trial, a one-mile race for 3-year-olds that is the final prep race for the Kentucky Derby, the track's marquee event. A field of eight horses has been entered which includes prominent stakes stars Don't Get Mad and Vicarage. Saturday and Sunday's "Grand Opening Weekend" celebration will feature a party atmosphere on all six floors of the new clubhouse. Valuable prize packages will be given away after each race on both days. Those prizes include tickets to the 2005 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes; tickets to this year's Kentucky Derby Press Party on May 5; a day at the races in a Jockey Club Suite; and Sunday Brunch for eight in Millionaires Row.