By Dick Downey
And they say race tracks never do anything for the fans. Churchill Downs will light up the night with the public unveiling of its “Big Board,” a new audio system and other grandiosity on Saturday.
The card is anchored by the 90th running of the Derby Trial, and Larry Collmus will make his debut as the track’s seventh announcer in its storied history.
The Big Board, created by Panasonic in partnership with Churchill Downs, is scheduled to come alive at 8:00, prior to the evening’s fifth race.
Other opening night highlights include:
--Live music by the local fan favorites The Louisville Crashers on the Plaza Stage at 8:30 p.m.
--A sky diving display between Races 6 and 7 around 9:00.
--A pyrotechnics display on the Plaza Stage at approximately 9:30 p.m.
--Red carpet entrances for fans at Gates 10 and 17.
--A chance to win a pair of tickets to next week’s 140th Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; you must register between 4:00 and 8:00.
It’s hard to believe it’s been this long, but it’s the fourth year that Churchill Downs has launched its Spring Meet with night racing.
And now back to that Big Board. And the new audio system
It’s 15,224 square feet, the largest 4K video board in the world, costing $12 million. The Big Board, located along the Churchill Downs backstretch, will be visible from nearly all seats at the track. Churchill Downs says it will provide images of heretofore unseen sharpness and clarity via the most advanced high definition technology in the world.
There’s a new sound system in the track’s clubhouse, grandstand and infield, which Churchill says is “vastly enhanced.” Fans will be able to see weather-resistant outdoor speakers in many parts of the facility.
Portions of the new Grandstand Terrace will be opening for viewing. The $14.5 million project covers 66,000 square feet and will improve grandstand-side seating located along the upper half of the track’s 1,234 1/2-foot homestretch.
Of that area, 51,000 square feet is new space that includes a second-floor Grandstand Pavilion and Rooftop Garden. The area features 2,400 stadium-style flip-up seats and new food and beverage and wagering locations, VIP sections, gathering spaces and 376 new or renovated restrooms -- 55 percent of which are for women.
Collmus will join the legendary Chick Anderson and Mike Battaglia as the only announcers to provide the Kentucky Derby call for both the on-track audience and the Derby’s network television partner, NBC.
After Saturday’s “Opening Night” program, there will be no live racing on Sunday or Monday at Churchill Downs. Kentucky Derby and Oaks Week racing will resume on Tuesday.