by Kathleen Adams
The start of the fall meet at Churchill Downs coincides with Halloween this year, but track officials insist patrons who walk through the gates Oct. 31 will discover nothing but treats.
"We're going to offer them a little bit of the flavor they're going to see in the future," Churchill president Steve Sexton said in reference to the opening of three new sections in the rebuilt clubhouse at the Louisville racetrack.
For the past year and a half, the facility has been engulfed in a $121-million renovation project. During the 2004 spring meet, patrons were allowed into several unfinished areas in the clubhouse, but for the upcoming 21-day meet, guests will find newly completed seating and entertainment areas throughout the first, second, and third floors.
Blue electrical wires still hung from ceiling areas, walls were unpainted, and the smell of sawdust filled the air as members of the media toured parts of the renovated clubhouse with track officials Oct. 7.
"A lot can happen in three weeks," John Asher, vice president of racing communications at Churchill, said with a laugh.
Churchill general manager Jim Gates said a second floor inter-track wagering area, outfitted with large screen television monitors, will for now replace the Paddock Pavilion simulcasting facility.
"Carrels from the Paddock Pavilion will be brought up to the second floor," Gates said. "The simulcasting area is larger than the Paddock Pavilion. It's really going to be a major improvement."
A food court featuring everything from an ice cream stand to pre-made sandwiches to grilled items will also be housed on the second floor. In addition, patrons will have the option of choosing between two lounges, Silks (non-smoking) and Champions (smoking). Both will operate on a first-come first-serve basis.
"We'll be able to seat 800 people comfortably," Gates said of the renovated second floor.
All box seats and a large section of the interior of the first floor, including mutuel windows, concession stands, and restrooms will also be available to patrons. Patrons can expect unfettered access to all exterior box seats on the third flood of the clubhouse.
"We're back on the finish line for the first time in a couple of meets," Gates said.
Once construction is completed in early April 2005, the racetrack will have seating for approximately 55,000 patrons. The four-week fall meet runs through Nov. 27 and features 12 graded stakes.