Unveiling of Massive 'Big Board,' Derby Trial, Larry Collmus, Sky Divers and Fireworks Highlight 'Opening Night'

Apr 25, 2014 John Asher

Churchill Downs Racetrack is set to open its 140th year and Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Week with a spectacular “Opening Night Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” celebration on Saturday, April 26 highlighted by the anticipated public unveiling of its spectacular “Big Board” 4K video screen, the 90th running of the $150,000-added Derby Trial (Grade III) and the debut of Larry Collmus as the track’s seventh announcer and race caller.

The Big Board, created by Panasonic in partnership with Churchill Downs, is scheduled to come alive at 8 p.m. (all times Eastern), prior to the evening’s fifth race.

While serving as the official kickoff of the celebration of the week that culminates in the renewals of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI), America’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies, and the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), America’s greatest race and one of the world’s most spectacular sports and entertainment events, the Saturday celebration also serves as the starting point for Churchill Downs’ Spring Meet. The 38-day racing session will continue through Sunday, June 29.

“Opening Night” admission gates open at 4 p.m. and post time for the first of the evening’s 10 races is set for 6 p.m.  General admission is $10. Box seats and dining packages are available for purchase through the online box office at www.ChurchillDowns.com or at the on-track box office at Gate 1, which is located off Central Avenue and adjacent to the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Along with the public debut of the Big Board and racing under the lights headed by the Derby Trial, other “Opening Night” highlights include:

  • Red carpet entrances for fans at Gates 10 and 17;
  • Registration at the track’s entrance gates from 4-8 p.m. for a chance to win a pair of tickets to next week’s 140th Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks;
  • Live music by the local fan favorites The Louisville Crashers on the Plaza Stage at 8:30 p.m.;
  • A sky diving display between Races 6 and 7 around 9 p.m.;
  • And a pyrotechnics display on the Plaza Stage at approximately 9:30 p.m.

The 2014 renewal of “Opening Night” marks the fourth consecutive year that Churchill Downs has launched its Spring Meet under its state-of-the-art lights.

Those lights will be augmented this year by the futuristic glow of its 15,224 square foot “Big Board,” the largest 4K video board in the world and part of the $12 million partnership with Panasonic, the board’s creator. The Big Board, located along the Churchill Downs backstretch, will be visible from nearly all seats at the track and will provide images of unprecedented sharpness and clarity via the most advanced high definition technology in the world.

Also part of the Big Board project is the installation of a new sound system in the track’s clubhouse, grandstand and infield. The vastly enhanced sound will intensify the stirring images of Thoroughbreds, their races and all parts of the on-track entertainment celebration throughout Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week and year-round at the historic track.

Fans attending “Opening Night” also will have an opportunity to take a peek at another 2014 project as portions of the new Grandstand Terrace will be opening for viewing.  The $14.5 million project covers 66,000 square feet and will directly impact fans in grandstand seating located along more than half of the track’s fabled 1,234 ½-foot homestretch.

Of that area, 51,000 square feet is completely new space that includes a second-floor Grandstand Pavilion and Rooftop Garden. The area features 2,400 new stadium-style flip-up seats and amenities that include new food and beverage and wagering locations, VIP sections, gathering spaces and 376 new or renovated restrooms. Of the latter, 55 percent are for women.

Although the night’s featured race is not a part of this year’s “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system that determines eligibility for 3-year-olds to compete in next Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, the one-mile Derby Trial could have an impact on the “Run for the Roses.”

A victory by Kaleem Shah’s Bayern, the co-favorite in the race trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, would elevate the son of Offlee Wild into the Top 20 in the point standings that will determine eligibility to compete in the Derby’s maximum field of 20 horses. Ten 3-year-olds were entered in the Derby Trial, which is scheduled as the eighth race at 10:01 p.m. ET.

Another important part of a busy “Opening Night’ is the introduction of new track announcer Larry Collmus to on-track fans and those who view Churchill Downs races on-line or in satellite wagering centers. The 47-year-old Maryland native has provided the national television call of the Kentucky Derby for NBC Sports for the past three years and is also the network’s race caller for telecasts of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Collmus also calls races for the premier winter meet at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, and has also served as announcer at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park, Boston’s Suffolk Downs and Northern California’s Golden Gate Fields.

With his call of the first race on Saturday’s “Opening Night” program, Collmus will join an elite fraternity of track announcers for the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Churchill Downs racing that includes Mark Johnson (2009-2013), Luke Kruytbosch (1999-2009), Kurt Becker (1997-1998), Mike Battaglia (1978-1996), Chic Anderson (1961-1977) and Gene Schmidt, the first Churchill Downs announcer who called the Derby for on-track audiences from 1940-1960.

Collmus will join the legendary Anderson and Kentucky-born Battaglia as the only announcers to provide the Kentucky Derby call for both the on-track audience and the Derby’s network television partner.

After Saturday’s “Opening Night” program, there will be no live racing on Sunday or Monday at Churchill Downs.  Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week racing will resume on Tuesday, April 29 and continue through Saturday’s spectacular Kentucky Derby Day racing program on Saturday, May 3. 

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