The lone “Downs After Dark Presented by Budweiser Select” nighttime racing event of Churchill Downs’ 21-day Fall Meet is Friday, and the first of 11 live races under the lights at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby will be 4:30 p.m. (all times Eastern).
This will mark the first time that Churchill Downs has staged a “Downs After Dark” event during its Fall Meet. Track officials are preparing for a crowd up to 25,000 although it remains unclear as to how many people will attend the fall debut.
“Admittedly, we don’t really know,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack. “We averaged 27,000 people for ‘Downs After Dark’ this spring, but with this being the fall, it remains unclear as to how many people we’ll have on hand because this is a first-time event for all of us. There’s still a buzz within the community and indoor and outdoor seating areas are nearly sold out, so we’re guardedly optimistic. All the added amenities that make the evening programs special will be back.”
In keeping with the trend inaugurated this spring, Friday’s “Downs After Dark” program will be themed and this go around is “Mad About Plaid.” Fans are urged to “think plaid” – one of the top 2010 Fall/Winter fashion trends – as they make their wardrobe selections for this exciting night of dining, dancing and racing beneath the Twin Spires. Prizes will be awarded after Race 5 (6:28 p.m.) on the Paddock Stage for outfits deemed the “most plaid in one ensemble” and representing the “best use of plaid.”
The transformed paddock area will have the look and feel of an upscale night club, with special décor by Barry Wooley Designs and “plaid” lighting created by Sounds Unlimited Productions. The comfortable free-seating options, specialty bars and food stations, colorful buntings, mood lighting, spotlights and seasonal greenery will be back.
Churchill Downs admission gates will open Friday at 3 p.m. with members of the Cincinnati Circus, including jugglers, stilt-walkers, acrobats and magicians, on hand to greet and entertain patrons. Also, special Happy Hour food and drink pricing will be available in the Paddock Garden until 5 p.m. Among the featured items are 12-ounce Budweiser Select draft beers for $2, hot dogs for $2 and specially-served $3 drinks for the evening: Jimmy Margarita (El Jimador Blanco, Chambord Raspberry liquor, sweet and sour), El Jimador Sunset (El Jimador Blanco, Pineapple Juice, Cranberry Juice and a splash of Lemon-Lime soda poured over ice and garnished with a cherry) and the timely Woodford Reserve Hot Chocolate (Woodford Reserve, Peppermint Schnapps and hot chocolate garnished with a peppermint stick) (Note: the specialty drinks will sell for $6 after 5 p.m.).
Music at the track will be showcased throughout the evening, too. To set the tone for the party, high energy music will be provided between live races in the paddock area by regional favorite Endless Summer Band from 3-7 p.m. and will be followed by internationally renowned VJ 2ndNature, who’ll mix modern rock, pop and hip-hop tunes with accompanying video until closing time. Meanwhile, parties for VIP guests on the Clubhouse balconies will be treated to jazz sounds of the Dave Clark Band.
All the while, the Voice-Tribune’s Angie Fenton and Kentucky Derby 135 Chief Party Officer Nick “RiNickulous” Ferrara will serve as emcees for the night with special interviews and features on the infield video screens and television monitors between races.
Churchill Downs will stage 11 live races starting at 4:30 p.m., and there are two featured allowance races: a $54,300 second-level turf sprint for fillies and mares that goes as Race 2 (4:58 p.m.) and a $56,400 third-level turf route as Race 10 (9:08 p.m.). Sunset is 5:28 p.m., which means at least seven races will be held under the lights.
Between races 6-9, the popular sweepstakes promotion “Bet or No Bet" Presented by Thorntons will return in which four 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.
The final race of the night is scheduled for 9:36 p.m., but the party will continue in the paddock area until 11 p.m.
An added treat will be a special appearance by renowned artist Lesley Humphrey, who’ll be on hand between 6-8 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Gift Shop to sign prints of her official artwork for Kentucky Derby 137 and Kentucky Oaks 137.
The National Weather Service forecast for Friday calls for sunny skies with a high near 58 (a few degrees above the average of 54), followed by mostly clear skies and a low around 42 in the evening. Churchill Downs has added several portable outdoor heaters in select locations, such as the paddock area and Clubhouse and Jockey Club Suites balconies, to help keep outdoor patrons warm.
Some “Date Night” dining packages in Millionaires Row remain available for $59.90 and include admission, a reserved seat, official program, scrumptious buffet dinner and live entertainment from 5:30-8:30 p.m. (plus appetizers served from 3-5:30 p.m.). Meanwhile, there are still some third-floor box seats in sections 314-321 for $20 and include general admission, a box seat in the third-floor clubhouse and an official program.
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.
All reserved ticket packages are available for purchase online at Tickets.ChurchillDowns.com – Churchill Downs’ convenient online box office platform. Customers also can call the Churchill Downs switchboard at (502) 636-4400.
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 3 p.m. at Gate 17.
On-site parking at Churchill Downs – free in the Longfield Avenue lot and $3 in all other lots – will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is also select parking in the surrounding neighborhood with enterprising neighbors. Because of Friday’s state quarterfinals playoff football game between the Trinity Shamrocks and St. Xavier Tigers (kickoff is 8 p.m.), there will be no official satellite parking and shuttle service from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, although patrons can park and walk from there for $10.
“There’ll be a great atmosphere on Central Avenue on Friday night,” Flanery added. “We welcome the folks planning to attend the playoff football game to enjoy their pre-game festivities at Churchill Downs and catch a majority of our races before heading over to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. It’ll make for a great one-two punch for the area’s die-hard sports enthusiasts.”
“Downs After Dark,” the perfect blend of an upscale night on the town with the excitement of thoroughbred racing, has been a spectacular success while showcasing live racing with ancillary entertainment such as food, fashion, music and parties. So far, more than 195,000 horseplayers and entertainment-seekers have attended the seven special nighttime programs since June 2009. Just less than 90,000 fans attended three “experimental” programs under temporary lights in 2009, and an average of 27,139 attended four night racing programs under permanent lights this spring. As a point of reference, a typical crowd for Friday afternoon racing at Churchill Downs is 7,500.
SPECIAL DOWNS AFTER DARK POST TIMES: Race 1 (start of early Pick 4), 4:30 p.m.; Race 2, 4:58 p.m.; Race 3, 5:27 p.m.; Race 4 (start of mid-card Pick 4), 5:57 p.m.; Race 5, 6:28 p.m.; Race 6 (start of Pick 6), 7 p.m.; Race 7, 7:32 p.m.; Race 8 (start of late Pick 4), 8:04 p.m.; Race 9, 8:36 p.m.; Race 10, 9:08 p.m.; and Race 11 (Super Hi-5), 9:36 p.m.