Now that the sun has set on this year’s Triple Crown, horse racing fans in the Louisville area will turn their attention to the much-anticipated return of the “Downs After Dark” nighttime racing programs at Churchill Downs, which arrive in earnest Friday night.
A perfect blend of an upscale night on the town with the excitement of thoroughbred racing, Downs After Dark Presented by Budweiser Select will take place on each of the final four Fridays of the 42-day Spring Meet. A new wrinkle this year is nightly themes, led by “Disco at the Downs” for the 2010 debut.
Last spring during a three-night market test, the nighttime racing programs were wildly popular with horseplayers and entertainment-seekers alike. The average on-track attendance was nearly 30,000 fans, and a modern day track record 33,481 attended the finale, which was the largest crowd for a Churchill Downs racing program other than a Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks or Breeders’ Cup.
The event’s overwhelming popularity helped signal the go-ahead for Churchill Downs Incorporated to invest $4 million in the installation of permanent lighting throughout the vast 147-acre facility. The state-of-the-art lighting system, designed and installed by Iowa-based Musco Lighting, will be used in its entirety for the first time Friday night.
Admission gates will open at 4 p.m. Friday and the first of 11 live races begin at 6 p.m. (all times Eastern). The final live race will be after 11 p.m. and the on-track party will continue in the paddock area until midnight.
The night racing buzz in the Louisville community last spring was second only to talk of the Kentucky Derby. Anywhere one went around town, people were talking about it – from local watering holes to supermarkets and doctors’ offices.
It wasn’t just racing under the stars that attracted people to the historic racetrack. After all, night racing has been part of horse racing history for several decades. Instead, it was the abundant ancillary activities that helped create a special and festive atmosphere. Quite simply, Churchill Downs was transformed into Louisville’s ultimate nighttime hot spot, leaving many attendees describing the experience as “something you’ve just got to see.”
“I’ve seen many great events at Churchill Downs over the years and Downs After Dark ranks near the top,” said Churchill Downs vice president of operations, David Sweazy, a track employee for the past 44 years, “Of course you’ve got all of the Derbys and the Breeders’ Cups, but The Rolling Stones concert in 2006 and these Downs After Darks are right there with them. Think about it: we successfully transformed Churchill Downs into something really special that affected so many people in a positive way. Remarkably, we had nearly 90,000 people here for three random nights in June and July to watch live horse racing. It was something special to be a part of.”
The showcased elements of food, fashion, music, parties and entertainment return this year and each of the evening extravaganzas will have a primary theme.
Friday’s “Disco at the Downs” debut will be a celebration of the 1970s, complete with disco balls, costume contests and dance competitions. On-track customers are encouraged to join in the revelry and dress in their favorite ’70s garb: floral pattern blouses, maxi dresses, halter neck catsuits, spandex hot pants and ultra short shorts for the women, and polyester flared trouser suits, bell bottom jeans and tight-fitting cheesecloth shirts with big collars and bright patterns for the men.
To set the tone for the party, there will be deejays at each admission gate and “Happy Hours” in the paddock area from 4-7 p.m. featuring $2 Anheuser Busch products and other discounted food and drink offerings. A significant increase from last year, there will be 11 points of sale for concessions in the paddock area and as many as 100 walk-around vendors throughout the facility.
All the while, attendees will boogie down to the pure disco delight of funky retro cover band 100% Poly until 9 p.m. The revelry will go to new heights late in the night when internationally renowned VJ 2ndNature – the same deejay who entertained Downs After Dark crowds in 2009 – mixes popular sounds of the ’70s from 9 p.m. until midnight.
The ’70s celebration will continue into Saturday when Kentucky Derby Alumni Day returns for the Stephen Foster Handicap Day program with a salute to the Derby winners from that decade, including Triple Crown winners Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).
Downs After Dark also will have themed celebrations around the Fourth of July and Halloween. The Friday, July 2 program is dubbed “An American Party: Boots, Brew & BBQ,” which will have a country/Americana ambiance and street party feel to kick-start the holiday weekend. On Sunday, Oct. 31, Churchill Downs will kickoff its Fall Meet and the start of Breeders’ Cup World Championships week with a “Spirits & Spires” Halloween costume party.
The other three Downs After Dark events will have a “South Beach” (June 18), “Dress to Impress” (June 25) and “Home for the Holidays” (Nov. 19) flavor.
CHURCHILL DOWNS TRANSFORMED FOR ‘DOWNS AFTER DARK’
The Churchill Downs facilities will be adorned by mood lighting, spotlights and seasonal greenery, and colorful bunting will flow throughout the grounds and entrances for each of the Downs After Dark events. With sleek and comfortable conversational seating options, stand-up cocktail tables, unique food and beverage stations and music added to the mix, the racetrack – particularly the paddock area – will have the look and feel of an upscale night club.
All the while, there will be private VIP Party Zones Presented by Bacardi and Finlandia, on the Clubhouse and Jockey Club Suites balconies with guests dancing to live music, as well.
Patrons will have the option to taste non-traditional racetrack offerings such as flavorful grilled shrimp, chicken and steak skewers and vegetable kabobs. Evening appetites also will be satisfied by scrumptious premium dining offerings available for purchase inside Millionaires Row, the Skye Terrace and other locations.
Other ancillary activities include entertainment and interviews hosted by Angie Fenton and Nick Ferrara on the infield video boards and the popular sweepstakes promotion called “Bet or No Bet” that randomly asks fans to take $100 in cash or place a free $1,000 win bet on a horse in the upcoming race.
HRTV TO BROADCAST LIVE FROM ‘DOWNS AFTER DARK’
Also, HRTV, the 24-hour horse racing television network which airs on DISH Network channel 404 and Insight Communications channel 564 in Louisville, will be onsite for this year’s Downs After Dark debut with reporters Caton Bredar and Aaron Vercruysee.
LIMITED RESERVED SEATING STILL AVAILABLE FOR FRIDAY NIGHT
According to the National Weather Service, Friday’s early forecast calls for partly sunny skies with a high near 91.
Those looking to escape Friday’s steamy temperatures can take advantage of the limited reserved seating still available indoors. “Date Night” dining packages in Millionaires Row remain available for $59.90 and include a scrumptious buffet dinner, live entertainment from 4-7 p.m., a reserved seat and an official program.
The outdoor third-floor box seats in sections 314-323 are nearly sold out. They are on sale for $20 and include general admission, a box seat in the third-floor clubhouse and an official program.
The one-time only “Dinner by Design” packages in the Stakes and Aristides Rooms on the fourth floor of the Clubhouse are already sold out. For $100, guests will enjoy a five-course dinner with premium wine pairings developed by Levy Restaurants’ Executive Chef Jo-Jo Doyle and special guest chef Anthony Lamas, the 2010 James Beard Foundation Best Chef nominee who is the owner of Louisville’s popular Latin restaurant Seviche. The special Downs After Dark menu will feature Lemon Cucumber Gazpacho, Kentucky Bison Empanada, Wild Pacific Halibut Seviche, Coconut Dusted Wild Alaskan Salmon and a Crispy Banana Chimichanga for dessert.
‘DOWNS AFTER DARK’ COVER CHARGE IS $10
Cover charge (general admission) to all Downs After Dark events is $10. Holders of shareholders passes or horsemen licenses, as well as select Twin Spires Club members (Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze members only) and children age 12 and under (when accompanied by an adult) will be admitted free of charge. A special discounted general admission pass for entrance on all six Downs After Dark nights in 2010 is available for $45 (a $15 savings).
As usual, Churchill Downs will be open early for simulcast wagering on the second floor of the clubhouse on Friday. General admission will be its regular price of $3 from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Gate 17.
All reserved ticket packages are available for purchase online at tickets.churchilldowns.com – Churchill Downs’ new and convenient online box office platform. Customers can also call the Churchill Downs switchboard at (502) 636-4400.
SPECIAL DOWNS AFTER DARK PARKING, TRAFFIC PLAN
Those attending Friday’s Downs After Dark 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). Last year, all lots were filled to capacity by post time for the second race.
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 with drop off and pick up at Gate 1.
Also, all Churchill Downs employees will be directed to park in the track’s infield.
Because of the overwhelming popularity of Downs After Dark a year ago, Churchill Downs has secured the services of approximately 50 Louisville Metro Police Department officers and traffic guards to monitor area traffic on Central Avenue and other nearby streets to advance ingress and egress. LMPD will control traffic signals, turn lanes and pedestrian traffic and partial road closures are possible if it becomes necessary because of heavy traffic.
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 Global Select Market: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will host the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7, 2011 and the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, May 6, 2011. The track’s 2010 Spring Meet continues through Sunday, July 4. Churchill Downs is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for a record seventh time on Nov. 5 and 6, 2010. Churchill Downs tickets are available at Tickets.ChurchillDowns.com or by calling (502) 636-4400. Additional information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at ChurchillDowns.com.