Last dance. Last chance.
Churchill Downs will kick-start the Fourth of July holiday weekend in style as the world’s most legendary racetrack winds down its 45-date Spring Meet with the final presentation of “Downs After Dark” on Thursday at 6 p.m. (all times Eastern).
Only four racing dates are left at the track’s 135th Spring Meet. Closing day is Sunday, July 5. With this week’s “Downs After Dark” scheduled for Thursday, Churchill Downs will host an 11-race program at its typical 2:45 p.m. start time on Friday. The final two programs on Saturday (11 races) and Sunday (10 races) will begin at 12:45 p.m.
Thursday is the third and final installment of the special three-date market test of night racing under the historic Twin Spires.
The first two dates received a groundswell of on-track support with 28,011 on hand for the historic debut on Friday, June 19. Another 27,623 attended on Friday, June 26 when food and beverage service areas were double and the staff was tripled.
Many attendees have described the experience as “something you’ve just got to see.”
Typically, Churchill Downs lures crowds of about 7,500 for Friday afternoon racing.
Online Night Racing Poll Launched
The lights that currently illuminate Churchill Downs are temporary and track officials have said they will consider installation of permanent lighting at season’s end.
The track recently launched an online poll at http://www.churchilldowns.com/vote for fans, both on- and off-track, to voice their opinion about night racing. The simple “yes” or “no” poll question is “Would you like to see Churchill Downs install permanent lights and conduct night racing as part of our regular meet schedule?” The poll will remain open through Tuesday, July 7 and all voters will be entered into a prize drawing to win first floor clubhouse box seats for six to next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
Rather than conduct “Downs After Dark” this Friday, track officials opted to stage the finale on Thursday, July 2 to kick-start the long holiday weekend and avoid competition from area fireworks celebrations.
Laser Light Show Added to “Downs After Dark”
To celebrate the night racing curtain call, track officials have added a Fourth of July-themed laser light show to Thursday’s already action-packed “Downs After Dark” menu of 11 live races and plentiful entertainment.
Patriotic images from the laser lights, including the U.S. flag, fireworks and horses, will be beamed in the paddock area between races once night falls. Meanwhile, a spectacular 30-minute show – accompanied by the tunes of VJ 2ndNature and magnified by four concert level haze machines that will fill the paddock air – will commence immediately after the last race at 11:11 p.m.
Transformation Into Nighttime Hot Spot Returns
Once again, Churchill Downs will be transformed into Louisville’s ultimate nighttime hot spot with added entertainment:
¨ The paddock area will have the look and feel of an upscale night club complete with sleek and comfortable conversational seating options;
¨ The facility will be adorned by colorful and patriotic bunting, mood lighting, seasonal greenery and spotlights;
¨ There’ll be specialty bars and unique food offerings such as delicious sizzling chicken and steak skewers throughout the facility;
¨ Live music will be provided in the paddock area by Endless Summer Band from 4-8:30 p.m.
¨ Tunes spun by internationally renowned, Atlanta-based VJ 2ndNature will elevate the party in the paddock from 8:45-11:45 p.m.;
¨ Extended “Happy Hours” return from 4-8 p.m. in the paddock area with $2 Budweiser Select, $2 hot dogs and $3 margaritas and daiquiris;
¨ There’ll be live salsa music for the private VIP parties on the Clubhouse balconies and standards sung inside the Triple Crown Room for Jockey Club Suites patrons.
Other “Downs After Dark” Fourth of July-themed Events & Offerings
In addition to the laser light show, Churchill Downs will help celebrate America’s Independence during Thursday’s “Downs After Dark” with patriotic-themed events and offerings such as:
¨ Free general admission and miniature U.S. flags to all active and retired U.S. military (with proof of identifaction);
¨ The National Anthem performed in the Kentucky Derby Winner’s Circle (5:25 p.m.) by former Miss America Heather French Henry accompanied by color guard from the Kentucky Air National Guard;
¨ A moving display of more than 1,000 U.S. flags inside Gate 10 in conjunction with Flags4Vets, whose primary goal is to place flags on every one of the graves of U.S. veterans buried in the 151 U.S. military cemeteries located in 11 countries;
¨ Military vehicles on display near Gates 1, 10 and 17;
¨ A winner’s circle ceremony after the second race (6:29 p.m.) in which jockey Calvin Borel will autograph the U.S. flag that flew at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day and present it to Flags4Vets;
¨ A swearing-in ceremony in the winner’s circle after the third race (6:59 p.m.) for the re-enlistment of the “Chief of Boat” for the United States Navy’s USS Kentucky;
¨ A giant 20 x 30 foot U.S. flag that was flown at Super Bowl XLII to be displayed for Gate 17 arrivals and an 8 x 12 foot U.S. flag from Super Bowl XLIII to be viewed from the paddock;
¨ Acknowledgement to each of the five branches of the armed forces with service flags flying in the paddock area, and pre-race patriotic hymns by bugler Steve Buttleman.
General Information: Gates Open at 4 p.m., First Race at 6 p.m., Admission $6
Admission gates on Thursday will open at 4 p.m. – two hours before the 6 p.m. first live race. The final four races will be run under the lights. Sunset is scheduled for 9:09 p.m. with Race 8 to coincide with the end of civil twilight at 9:41 p.m. The final race of the night has an 11:11 p.m. post time.
General admission for night racing at Churchill Downs is $6 and just $1 for seniors 60 and up and members of Churchill Downs’ free customer rewards program, the Twin Spires Club. Also, all season passes will be honored at admission gates, and admission is free for children 12 and under when accompanied by an adult.
Reserved seating went fast and most of the facility is sold out, including all “Date Night” dinner and dancing packages for $39.95 per person in Millionaires Row and the Skye Terrace. Only a handful of the special $10 package that includes general admission, a box seat in the third-floor clubhouse and an official program remain.
Free Parking, Shuttles at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
Customers are encouraged to utilize the free parking that is offered at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium starting at 4 p.m. There will be free round-trip shuttle service throughout the evening with drop off at Gate 10 and pick up at Gate 1. On-site parking at Churchill Downs – free in the Longfield Avenue lot – is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Kids’ Night Out” Available at Kentucky Derby Museum
Adults looking to enjoy a night at the races without the kiddos in tow now have an alternative to the neighborhood babysitter. For $25 (or $20 for each additional sibling), the Kentucky Derby Museum will host a “Kids’ Night Out” for children age 5-12 from 5-11:30 p.m. Fun-filled activities hosted by the Derby Museum staff will include pony rides, arts and crafts, Wii games, horse-themed movies, board games, dance contests, pizza and snacks. They’ll even take an outdoor tour to watch a live race or two. For more information or to reserve a spot, call (502) 637-1111 ext. 227 or visit online at http://www.derbymuseum.org/special_event.html.
The Horses & Special Wagering Options
A total of 112 horses have been entered to compete on the 11-race program. The wagering menu is highlighted by a special $100,000 guaranteed pool for the Pick 4 on Races 4-7 (pick the winners of four consecutive races) and two races that feature the Z-5/Super Hi-5 (pick the top five finishers in order) on Races 6 and 11.
Also, the popular “Bet or No Bet” promotion will return for Races 6-10 in which five lucky on-track patrons will be randomly drawn and faced with a tough decision: to take $100 in cash or place a $1,000 win bet on a horse in the upcoming race. Last week, David Sherry of Louisville gambled and took home $7,900 when Candid Image won the seventh race.
Ideal Weather Conditions
According to the National Weather Service, Thursday’s Louisville forecast calls for partly sunny skies with a high near 77 degrees and a low around 62.
For more information, call (502) 636-4400 or log onto www.churchilldowns.com.