Address: 700 Central Avenue, Louisville, KY 40208 Website: www.churchilldowns.com
Meeting: Churchill Downs hosts two separate meets, one in the spring/summer, which features America’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby, and one in the fall. The spring/summer meet commences in late April, usually a week before the Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May, and extends to the end of June. The centerpiece of the meet is unquestionably the Derby, now in its 145th year, but the Derby undercard also packs a serious punch with a trio of supporting Grade 1’s: the Turf Classic, the Churchill Downs, and the Humana Distaff. The Kentucky Oaks, the filly equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, is traditionally run the Friday before the Derby and is also supported by some outstanding stakes races. The fall meet begins in mid-September and lasts until the end of November, with a brief hiatus in October as Keeneland conducts its meet. The highlight of the fall meet is the Grade 1 Clark Handicap for older horses.
History: When one thinks of American horse racing, Churchill Downs and its iconic twin spires immediately come to mind. The track officially opened in 1875 and the inaugural Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks were held that same year. In 1894 the track was bought by new ownership and many changes were instituted, including the building of the track’s famed grandstand with the twin spires and the shortening of the Kentucky Derby to its traditional 1 ¼ miles. Churchill Downs really flourished at the start of the 20th century, when under the direction of Col. Matt Winn the track shed its image as merely a haven for gambling. It was during this time that the Derby became the per-eminent horse race for 3-year-olds in the country. The track was designated a national historic landmark in 1986. On June 19, 2009, Churchill hosted its first-ever night race.
Facilities: The most famous feature of the track are the iconic twin spires that are set atop the grandstand, which are a symbol of the track and the Derby itself. The track is a one-mile dirt oval, with a seven-furlong turf course inside of it. From 2001 to 2005, Churchill underwent an extensive renovation to replace the clubhouse and add dozens of luxury suites. The track also contains the Kentucky Derby Museum, which focuses on the history of the race and Churchill Downs, and in 2013 a new, ultra high-definition video board was installed. There are several exclusive areas and dining options on site, including Millionaires Row and the Skye Terrace, the Stakes Room, the Roses Lounge and the Aristides Lounge.