What to Watch for in the 2023 Kentucky Derby
The famed Churchill Downs racetrack is undergoing a massive $200 million renovation project. The project is still underway, but that won’t stop the 2023 Kentucky Derby from taking place in its traditional spot at the historic racetrack.
Currently, crews have erected temporary stalls and laid down wood chips on the walking ring and artificial turf in the middle. The rest of the massive 138,000-square-foot space has been blanketed with asphalt, giving it the look of an oval spaceship that has landed in the heart of the racetrack.
The renovated space will offer terraced standing-room viewing, premium seating, club spaces, and even dining options. Observers will be able to watch the goings-on with more ease and be part of the process as it unfolds.
When the project is complete, for the 150th Derby, twenty-one saddling stalls will flank the tunnel connecting the paddock to the racetrack. The statues of Aristides, the first Derby winner, and the jockey Pat Day, the track’s all-time leader in every major category, have been moved elsewhere and will return to the paddock area when the construction is finished. The tradition of hanging a sign above the previous winner’s stall will continue as well, even with the temporary setup.
In addition to the temporary stalls and artificial turf on-site, other improvements have been implemented. For example, a total of $90 million has been invested in a new first turn project that is essentially a three-story structure that covers thousands of indoor and covered seats as well as a dining area. The seating around the first turn has been revamped to improve views and accessibility for the Derby fans.
Eustace Fernandes, a Louisville resident since 1993 who has been to at least 20 Derbies, has met Brenda Brown of Frisco, Texas, and Sheri Hightower of Denver on the rail at the paddock. They have texted nearly every week ever since and were back there Friday.
Fernandes and his companions find the new configuration to be the “best in the house” for observing the action. “It’s a great view of the horses, which is what the three of us love,” Hightower said.
The renovation project has yet to be completed—so spectators can expect even more changes by the time the next Derby rolls around. But for now, they must judge the work as it is, and if the temporary stalls and new structure improve viewing and accessibility, it can only be concluded that Churchill Downs is on track for a successful renovation.
Stay tuned for more updates on the Kentucky Derby and the Churchill Downs renovation project, which will surely shape the future of the world’s most iconic horse race.