The fanfare surrounding the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Racetrack is legendary, and the company that owns the iconic horse racing complex is betting big on keeping it that way.
While gearing up for this year's "greatest two minutes in sports," Churchill Downs, Inc., CEO William Carstanjen gave FOX Business insight into what he anticipates surrounding this year's run for the roses — and beyond.
Kentucky Derby 2022
"It is really great to see the Kentucky Derby festivities return to the traditional energy and excitement as we prepare to open our gates at Churchill Downs Racetrack to a full capacity crowd for the first time in 2 years," Carstanjen wrote in an email. "Based on advanced reserved ticket sales, we expect to deliver record Derby Week results."
The CEO noted that many general admission guests wait until the day of the event to buy tickets, and often weather plays a factor in that volume with a slight impact on attendance.
Where does betting stand?
"TwinSpires Horse Racing business was down compared to last year as more people returned to wagering in person at racetracks and other brick and mortar facilities given that there were still COVID-related restrictions in place last year that limited attendance," Carstanjen explains.
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He said that in 2019, the online share for wagering was nearly 40 percent and then jumped to 61 percent during 2020. Compared to first quarter of 2019, handle for Churchill Downs' online horse racing business was still up 68 percent in the first quarter of 2022.
What's new for Churchill Downs Racetrack?
Churchill Downs Racetrack is currently undergoing significant renovations.
"This year we debuted our Homestretch Club, the first completed phase of our multi-year capital investment strategy at Churchill Downs Racetrack," Carstanjen wrote. "This new entertainment venue along the home stretch of the racetrack includes 3,250 premium seats that will provide a variety of exciting high-end experiences for our guests."
The company has also started work on the second phase of their plan, which is the Turn I project replacing lower priced temporary seating with premium covered seating overlooking the first turn of the racetrack. That project is slated for completion by Derby 2023.
The third phase is a $185-$200 million redevelopment of the Paddock area which is expected to debut for the 150th Kentucky Derby in May of 2024.
"The Paddock is the heart of the racetrack," Carstanjen says. "It’s where the horses are paraded and saddled for everyone to see. Where the jockeys mingle before they hear ‘riders up’ and mount up. It’s where some of our guests decide for whom they will cheer and bet. The paddock is truly where the best of the pageantry and spectacle that is the Kentucky Derby converge to create the energy that courses throughout the racetrack."
"When we are done with this project, we will have transformed Churchill Downs Racetrack," the CEO wrote. "The ability to undertake a project of this magnitude is a reflection of the deep experience, results and stability demonstrated by our team over many years coupled with the vision and support of our Board. All of us at the Company are thrilled to be a part of it."