Let the party begin! Churchill Downs will kick off Kentucky Derby Week and its 38-day Spring Meet in style Saturday night with a rousing prime-time 11-race program that begins at 6 p.m. EDT.
Simply billed as “Opening Night” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka, this stand-alone event (there’s no live racing at Churchill Downs on Sunday or Monday) has quickly become “Louisville’s Gala.”
The prime-time program was a stirring success when introduced in 2011 and lured an unprecedented 38,142 fans – the largest crowd for a Churchill Downs racing program other than a Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks or Breeders’ Cup. Last year, 26,527 fans endured a 50-minute, mid-card weather delay when a severe thunderstorm packed with significant-sized hail pelted the track.
Saturday’s National Weather Service forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 65 and a small chance of precipitation.
Not even a brief rain shower could dampen the enthusiasm surrounding this year’s opener, which will include the 89th running of the $175,000-added Derby Trial (Grade III) – the last chance for a 3-year-old to earn a berth in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. The one-mile Derby Trial will go as Race 10 of 11 at 10:42 p.m. EDT.
In addition to the return of horse racing to Louisville for the first time since November, the elements that make night racing at Churchill Downs an on-track hit will be back. Plus, there’s a bigger and better place for the pulse of the party.
The Plaza, situated between the saddling paddock and Gate 1, is 30,000 square feet of open gathering space made possible by the razing of the outdated and underutilized Paddock Pavilion last summer. The main music stage has been positioned in that area along with vendor tents, a bar and a giant 12’ x 20’ video screen with speakers that will remain in place there throughout the Spring Meet.
A red, black and white color scheme will be splashed throughout the facility. There’ll be Red Carpet entrances at Gates 10 and 17, plus paparazzi photographers and DJs inside the gates to greet guests when admission gates open at 4 p.m. EDT.
Music at the track will be showcased throughout the evening, too. To set the tone for the party, DJ Patrick Slayer will perform on the Plaza stage from 4-7 p.m. The party will elevate to new levels at 7:30 p.m. when the popular 10-piece band Street Dance performs popular tunes into the night.
Meanwhile, there’ll be floating entertainment including stilt walkers, partner acrobats and a special appearance by The Rubberboy (a.k.a. Daniel Browning Smith), who holds the Guinness World Record for the “World’s Most Flexible Man.” The entertaining contortionist will perform six-minute shows throughout the night.
The last race of the night is scheduled for 11:10 p.m., but the party in the Plaza will continue until midnight.
The suggested evening attire is “Cocktail Chic” – a party/cocktail dress and headwear (i.e. fascinator or feathers) for the ladies and sharp pants/shirt (tie optional) with headwear for the men.
Cover charge (general admission) to Opening Night is $10 and patrons must be age 18 or older or accompanied by a responsible adult to gain admission.
Some Opening Night indoor dining packages for $59.90 and outdoor box seats for $20 remains available. Seating can be purchased through Churchill Downs’ online box office at www.ChurchillDowns.com/tickets or by visiting the historic track’s on-track box office at Gate 1, located off Central Avenue adjacent to the Kentucky Derby Museum. Both also offer seating and tickets for all other racing days and events scheduled for the track’s Spring Meet, including Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks seating packages in Section 110 – the new area featuring tip-up, stadium-style seats on the iconic first-turn with a view of the legendary Twin Spires.
Churchill Downs will be open early for simulcast wagering on the second floor of the clubhouse on Opening Night. General admission will be its regular price of $3 from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Gate 17.
Those attending Opening Night are encouraged to arrive early to secure on-site parking and avoid traffic delays. All on-property parking lots will open at 3 p.m. and space is available on a first-come, first-served basis (free in the Longfield Avenue lot). Typically, all lots are filled to capacity before conclusion of the first few races. Churchill Downs will offer free parking and shuttle service from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium starting at 4 p.m. There will be free round-trip shuttle service throughout the evening.
Following Opening Night, Churchill Downs will be dark Sunday, April 28 and Monday, April 29. Kentucky Derby week racing will resume Tuesday, April 30 and continue through Kentucky Derby Day on Saturday, May 4. Post time on April 30-May 2 will be 12:45 p.m. ET. The first race on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days will be 10:30 a.m. ET.
Night racing at Churchill Downs has been a spectacular success while showcasing live racing with ancillary entertainment such as food, fashion, music and parties. So far, more than 450,000 horseplayers and entertainment-seekers have attended the 18 special nighttime programs since June 2009.
In addition to Opening Night, Churchill Downs will stage a trio of “Downs After Dark” night racing programs during the Spring Meet over the final three Saturdays in June (June 15, June 22 and June 29).
Saturday night’s Derby Trial is the final race on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com.” As part of the Wild Card series, points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers on a 20-8-4-2 scale. Twenty points and sufficient earnings could land the winner in the Derby a week later on Saturday, May 4, if the connections desired.
The field, from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Officer Alex (Robby Albarado, 8-1), Ruler of Love (Rosie Napravnik, 15-1), Zee Bros (Mike Smith, 5-2 favorite), Forty Tales (Joel Rosario, 3-1), Ruble (Alan Garcia, 6-1), Capo Bastone (Garrett Gomez, 5-1), Tour Guide (Miguel Mena, 10-1), G.T. Tabu (Willie Martinez, 50-1) and Titletown Five (Gary Stevens, 5-1).
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN). Churchill Downs will conduct the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2013 and its 2013 Spring Meet is scheduled for April 27-June 30. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.ChurchillDowns.com.