I vividly recall going to Shea Stadium in the mid-1970s to watch the Boston Red Sox take on the New York Yankees. That's right, Shea Stadium, the home of the Mets, not Yankee Stadium, where the Bronx Bombers have resided since 1923. The House that Ruth Built underwent major renovations in 1974 and '75, and the Yankees struck a deal with the Mets to play their home games at Shea.
Churchill Downs has been undergoing a major renovation since 2002. But there was no moving racing away from the Louisville track during the project, especially not the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
Fans attending the 130th Run for the Roses are in for a shock when they arrive at the Downs. No doubt there will be numerous inconveniences because of the half-finished state of phase two of the project. A gaping hole has replaced a major section of the clubhouse, including the section known as Millionaire's Row, where the rich and famous are used to viewing the activities from the track's highest vantage point (other than the Twin Spires). There is no press box, either, so racing writers are being accommodated in the simulcast building located on the site of the old paddock. Not the greatest view of the race.
The Millionaire's Row crowd will be dispatched to a massive marquee tent in the infield. The tent is so big it will block the backstretch view for people on the first three floors. Let's hope the big tent is a one and out proposition.
Parts of the clubhouse were close to completion at the beginning of Derby week, though rough edges were showing everywhere. Cement walls and floors are not a pretty sight, and not what people paying more than $200 a ticket expect to see when they go to make a bet or buy food and drinks. It will be a miracle if all of the concession stands in that section are in working order, too.
But what option did Churchill Downs officials have with the Derby: move it to Ellis Park?
Rather than focus on short-term inconveniences, Derby-goers should imagine the finished product. The rickety, old structure that, at best, had charm, is being replaced by a major league sports stadium, with touches that will enhance a day at the track for the railbird in the grandstand as well as a corporate executive in a sixth-floor luxury suite. It will put the world's most famous horse race in a world-class facility.
More than a few people are talking about how Churchill is taking a NASCAR approach with this project, which is budgeted to cost $216 million when completed next spring. The company is pouring loads of money into a facility that essentially will be used twice a year, for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Derby, and a third time in the years when Churchill hosts the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. If it works for NASCAR, it should work for the horse track that hosts the biggest day in racing every year.
ADS FOR JOCKEYS
Jockeys should be free to wear any logo they choose and promote any company that is willing to pay them--on their own free time. The jockeys involved with a dispute with the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority over wearing a corporate logo or one for the Jockeys' Guild claim they are the only athletes not allowed to benefit from corporate sponsors.
Race car drivers wear the logos of the companies that pay the car owners a sponsorship fee. Players in the major professional sports of baseball, football, and basketball are not allowed to wear advertising logos on their uniforms, though the team owners or leagues may have sponsorship agreements with companies like Nike or Reebok.
Plenty of players in the major sports get endorsement deals, but you may have noticed they usually are wearing either a generic uniform or street clothes in the ads. That's the way it should be with jockeys, unless the owners who are paying them to ride have given their approval.