Featured in this article:
  • Churchill Downs won’t build a hotel at the racetrack, to the disappointment of race-goers
  • There will be huge renovations by 2024 in time for the 150th Kentucky Derby – but no hotel.
  • First steps of three-phase implementation change to take place in 2022

3 Minute Read

Plans to build a Churchill Downs hotel in time for the 150th Kentucky Derby in 2024 have been buried after the group that owns the racetrack withdrew its proposal.

Churchill Downs Inc. had set out ambitious plans 18 months ago to build a 156-room hotel overlooking the famous racetrack as the cornerstone to a $300m investment project.

However, in a conference call with investors and analysts this month, Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen cited the coronavirus pandemic and reduced travel as factors behind withdrawing the hotel plan.

“Based on this analysis, we have decided to not build a hotel on the first turn of Churchill Downs racetrack at this time,” Carstanjen said, as reported by Blood Horse. “We may decide to build a hotel at the racetrack in the future, but now is not the right time. We think we have excellent alternative projects that offer better returns on our capital over shorter periods at the racetrack.”

“We’re excited about what is to come at Churchill Downs racetrack over the next three years, but we are not ready to share our detailed plans today.”

Instead, the group intend to refurbish other parts of the racetrack and focus on more lucrative short-term investments, such as on-track amenities for racegoers during Derby week itself.

The Kentucky Derby is by far the most popular festival of the year at Churchill Downs and in pre-Covid times attracted an average combined attendance of 165,000 per year. The racetrack, which first staged America’s most iconic race back in 1875, was last fully renovated two decades ago.

The 2021 Kentucky Derby is expected to welcome a reduced capacity to the venue due to Covid restrictions. Yet it is hoped that as many as 45,000 Kentucky Derby tickets will be made available to racegoers.

horses and jockeys at night at churchill downs during breeders cup

Horses during the Classic race at the Breeder’s Cup = at Churchill Downs in 2010. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Churchill Downs Renovation Plans

Based four miles south of downtown Louisville, Churchill Downs isn’t short on hotels, with scores based around the neighboring Kentucky Expo Center and University of Louisville.

And with the investment focus shifting to race-day experiences for punters, Churchill Downs Inc. are set to outline a three-phase infrastructure plan going forward:

  • Phase 1 complete by 2022 Kentucky Derby
  • Phase 2 complete by 2023 Kentucky Derby
  • Phase 3 complete by 2024 Kentucky Derby

“We’re excited about what is to come at Churchill Downs racetrack over the next three years, but we are not ready to share our detailed plans today,” Carstanjen added.

“While we haven’t gotten firm construction estimates yet, we know these projects are economically viable.”

Other Investments

Plans to create a historical horse racing (HHR) facility at Churchill Downs have also been put on ice. Instead, the company will continue with their plans to expand the Derby City Gaming site, based near Louisville airport. It is reported that a second HHR site could also be opened elsewhere in Louisville.

Joseph Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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