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A Brief History of America’s Churchill Downs

Added on: Aug. 19, 2014

Churchill Downs is one of the most famous horse racing venues in the world. It is located on Central Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky, in the United Sates, and this prestigious thoroughbred Racetrack has become famous for hosting the annual Kentucky Derby. It has also become recognisable thanks to the twin spires that fit atop the main grandstands and these noticeable features were originally commissioned in 1895.

Churchill Downs officially opened in 1875 and over the years it has also become known for hosting several other major races including the Kentucky Oaks, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, the Stephen Foster Handicap and the Clark Handicap. The track is actually named for John and Henry Churchill who originally started out by leasing 80 acres of land (approximately 320,000 square meters) to their nephew, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.

It was only after Col. M. Lewis Clark had travelled to England and France at some point in 1872-73 when he came up with the plan to construct the Louisville Jockey Club - a venue which could eventually host major racing events. Throughout his stay in Europe, Clark ended up meeting some of the most important European racing figures of the day, including the Vice president of the French Jockey Club, Vicompte Darn, and also England’s Admiral Rous.

When he came back to the US from his European visit, he immediately got to work on the construction of a new racetrack with a stunning new spectator building and this would eventually be known as Churchill Downs. When the two previous race courses in Louisville closed down (Woodland and Oakland), Churchill Downs quickly filled the void and became the primary racing venue in the area.

It wasn’t actually until 1937 when the venue was officially incorporated as Churchill Downs. The first ever national telecast of the Kentucky Derby aired on May 3rd, 1952 and also in the same year the first barns constructed of concrete firewalls were erected. Less than a year later, additional seats were added to the second floor of the grandstand and clubhouse and 400 extra third-floor boxes were also added to the clubhouse.

In 1954, a film patrol was fitted so that racing officials could now have easy access to replays and then approximately one year later, an automatic sprinkler system worth $300,000 was installed in the entire grandstand and clubhouse. Over the years, millions of dollars’ have been invested in renovating Churchill Downs, with many of these changes occurring during the mid-1980s right up until the present day.

In October 2013, spectators were treated a brand new Panasonic High Definition LED Video Board measuring 15,244 square feet. This enormous new screen has a 170-degree viewing angle and it cost a whopping $12 million. In fact, more than $160 million has been invested to improve the spectators experience since 2005 alone.