On Saturday, Nov. 17, Downs After Dark – The Golden Era – presented by Stella Artois & Finlandia Vodka will attract an energetic, fun-filled crowd of horse racing aficionados and socialites to the historic racetrack off Central Avenue. In keeping with the tradition started in 2010, Downs After Dark will incorporate a special theme, this time commemorating the Roaring Twenties. “We’re always looking for new themes and fun ways to celebrate, and we thought a great (theme) for the fall would be to have a nod to the Roaring Twenties,” said Darren Rogers, senior director of communications and media services at Churchill Downs. “We’ll be transforming the facility into a Gatsby-like estate party. We’ll have lots of greenery and … lavish decor that’s reminiscent of the ’20s.”
In keeping with the retro motif, Churchill Downs will host much of the night racing festivities in a different, though not entirely new, location at the track. The former Paddock Pavilion, used between 1920 to around 1980 and situated between the saddling paddock and Gate 1, has been razed and transformed into the Plaza, allowing plenty of space for dancing and watching the dynamic night racing performances from opening act Swing St. Louis featuring Jack Garrett & the Syndicate, as well as headliner The Rick Bartlett Band.
“In August, (Churchill Downs) decided to raze the Paddock Pavilion and clear open 30,000 square feet of new space,” Rogers said. “When we do have night racing on the 17th, the Plaza Balcony will be open to the public for the first time.” The Plaza Balcony will provide outdoor covered seating for 218 people (36 tables of six), complete with flat screen TVs and close proximity to the Jockey’s Quarters, among other amenities.
The new night racing area will be decked out in Great Gatsby-themed decor, as will many other facilities inside the racetrack. From the park benches to a five-tier fountain, oversized gold metallic treatments in the dining areas, feather centerpieces and black crystal candelabras, you’ll feel as if you’ve been instantly transported into the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.
While dressing up to match the theme is encouraged, it’s, of course, not a requirement. Churchill Downs, however, has made a friendly suggestion to attendees to intertwine black, gold or white into their ensembles.
Aside from the thrill of commemorating the new theme and the return of horse racing under the lights, Downs After Dark will also bring back the Bet or No Bet sweepstakes presented by Thorntons, in which four lucky fans during the night will receive a chance to choose between placing a $1,000 win wager on the horse of his or her choice or walk away with a $100 Thorntons gift card.
The unique excitement surrounding Downs After Dark has led the event to become one of Churchill Downs’ most popular and lucrative. Night racing generally sees three times the attendance of a typical afternoon race, and accumulates twice the amount in track betting figures.
“I’m there for the horses and the betting, but as far as the music, it’s different, it makes (racing) more festive instead of just (having) dead (time) between the horse races,” said Jimmy Toon, a frequent attendee of Churchill Downs and night racing. “There’s action all the time.”
Though the crowd is generally younger at Downs After Dark, people of all ages enjoy the night racing atmosphere. Tedi Dietrich, a huge Churchill Downs fan and mother of three, has been planning her visit to the track on Nov. 17 for more than a month. “(Night racing is) very picturesque,” she said. “I love the nighttime setting. … And people are always in a great mood. The Downs After Dark club are people who are there to have a good time. I feel like no one’s a stranger and everybody’s really friendly.”
Churchill Downs admission gates will open at 3 p.m. on Nov. 17. The first of 11 live races will be held at 4:30 p.m. with sunset at 5:29 p.m., meaning at least seven races will be held under the lights. The final race is scheduled for 9:36 p.m. General admission is $10. Those with shareholders passes or horsemen licenses and children 12 and under (when accompanied by an adult) will be admitted free of charge.
Churchill Downs is offering unique packages, including admission to the Millionaires Lounge for $40, which includes live entertainment, exclusive balcony access, a racetrack view and three tastings featuring Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe. Each brew is paired with a specialty food sample that can be ordered in a full-size portion if desired for an additional fee of $5. For $59.90, receive a dining space ticket on the fourth floor of the Skye Terrace with an indoor seat in a climate controlled environment and the opportunity to view the races from an outdoor balcony. Finally, for a step above general admission at $20, enjoy reserved box seating on the Third Floor Clubhouse and a complimentary race program. Based on current ticket sales, Rogers encourages anyone looking to attend the latest installment of Downs After Dark to reserve a spot quickly because indoor seating is going fast, he warned.
“The whole part of the Downs After Dark concept is to take some of the ingredients that make the Kentucky Derby so special,” Rogers said of next Saturday’s event. “We don’t just want to flip the switch and race under the lights. We want to create a truly unique event, and we think we’ve done that, and the crowds have responded.”
For more information on Churchill Downs’ night racing, visit www.churchilldowns.com/tickets/downsafterdark.