LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - If you are making plans for Oaks and Derby in just a week and a half, and you think your to-do list is long, Churchill Downs has got you beat. The track opens up its Spring Meet Saturday night with a couple of big debuts planned for the big night. The final spit and polish routine at the track looks much different this year as a big renovation, expansion and addition get ready to make their debuts.
"We've got five days," said Darren Rogers, Senior Director of Communications at Churchill Downs. "A lot can happen in five days."
In this case, those five days will be filled with finishing touches. Rogers gave us a tour of the seating area behind the Derby Museum, which has a whole new look.
"This is an area of the grandstand that had not been touched since the early 1950s," he said.
Not anymore. Now you can't find a space that hasn't been touched with much-needed improvements.
"The mutuel lines used to sit much deeper and what we did was we built restrooms here in the 320 to 323 section," Rogers said.
The most impressive changes start where the grandstand seating used to stop. Now there's an outdoor space for more betting windows, more food vendors and more fans.
"All this area that we're in is brand-new seating at Churchill Downs," said Rogers. "We have 2,400 new seats and these are stadium seats with cup holders ... You come up from these seats right here and you walk into this terrace area where there will be hospitality. There might be some high-boy tables and some lounge seating up here."
The biggest change is the one everyone will see and hear as soon as you get near Churchill: the 170 foot high big board that soars above the infield.
"The big board is really going to redefine the race day, when you come out here and just to make it clear, this is not being installed just for Oaks and Derby," Rogers said.
On those big days, you'll go places you've never been before and see how the other half celebrates Oaks and Derby.
"It will really be like an on-track set. They're going to take us to different areas throughout the facility such as what's going on with the partiers in the infield, how are the celebrities enjoying their day on the red carpet and then to the Turf Club."
The big board is already working. WAVE 3 News got a few glimpses of a camera test. As for the rest of it, there's still a lot to do. Rogers says fear not: "I can assure you this: we'll be ready to open the gates at 4:00 on Saturday night."
The glimpse of the big board in action is really rare. The idea is to keep it under wraps until it's unveiled in impressive HD glory on Opening Night. When you're there, make sure you keep an eye on that screen. A few WAVE 3 News personalities will make an appearance high above the night racing fans.
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