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    Churchill Downs kicks off Kentucky Derby week and its 38-day spring racing calendar Saturday, Apr. 25. The meet will run Wednesdays through Sundays, with closing day Saturday, June 27. The meet begins with the festivities of Derby week, plus two Downs After Dark programs, Family Adventure Days presented by Kroger, and the new Twilight Thursdays.

    Derby Week

    The Derby week schedule kicks off with Opening Night and the featured race, the $100,000 William Walker for 3-year-olds. The opening extravaganza begins with the first post at 6 p.m. and includes music by Tony and the Tanlines beginning at 8 p.m. in the Paddock Plaza. The night also features the first chance to sit in the new Courtyard Stretch, which will accommodate the connections of the 20 Kentucky Derby contenders a week later. A seat in the Courtyard Stretch, which sits adjacent to the track on either side of the daily winner’s circle, is $55 and includes the Chef’s Table Dinner and unlimited soft drinks. Plus bragging rights when you point to the Kentucky Derby winners next Saturday and tell your friends you were sitting right there! General admission Opening Night is $10.

    Tuesday through Thursday of Derby week enjoy Dawn at the Downs from 7-9 a.m. Come out and get a glimpse of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders as they take to their morning gallops. A breakfast buffet on Millionaires Row will be served from 7-8:30 a.m. Tickets are $22 - $36. General admission for viewing on the first floor rail is free. Broadcast throughout the Downs, a host will announce each horse and provide information about past performances. There will be a lot of horses training on the track each morning, but if you want to see the Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders, make sure you’re there around 8:15 a.m. Only Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders are allowed on the track after the renovation break, roughly 8:30 a.m. Each horse will wear a specially-colored saddle towel (neon yellow for Derby and pink for Oaks) with his or her name on it, so it’s a perfect opportunity to snap a picture of your Derby or Oaks pick.

    What used to be Thursday of Derby week is now “Thurby” with special features throughout the day. 91.9 WFPK presents the music of Kyle James Hauser and Zach Longoria Project in the Paddock Plaza, Brown-Forman Bourbon Cocktail Showdown between Chief Entertaining Officer Tim Laird and Master Distiller Chris Morris, bourbon cocktail specials, and a chance to win tickets to this year’s Kentucky Derby and Oaks.

    Of course the Kentucky Oaks is Friday, May 1 and the Kentucky Derby is Saturday, May 2. A special first post for each day is 10:30 a.m. and gates open at 8 a.m. Check back on for special analysis and top picks for these special races.

    Meet Events

    New this year is Twilight Thursdays. Churchill Downs will do away with its Friday night happy hours and replace them with Twilight Thursdays. The event hopes to draw the working crowd for a shortened evening of racing. With the first post at 5 p.m., an evening of eight races will pass within less than four hours. The night will feature live music, food trucks and $1 beer in the Paddock Plaza.

    Also new this meet is track announcer Travis Stone. Stone replaces Larry Collmus, who left Churchill Downs after a year to replace the retiring Tom Durkin at New York Racing Association's tracks. Stone was calling races at Louisiana Downs and Monmouth Park before getting the nod at Churchill. He'll call his first race under the historic spires Saturday night.

    The meet is bookended with night-racing programs. Opening Night is touted as a stand-alone event, but features a similar program to the Downs After Dark programs. In addition to Downs After Dark on closing night, the remaining Downs After Dark program will be Saturday, June 13, Stephen Foster Stakes Day.

    Family Adventure Days presented by Kroger will be featured two Sundays during the meet—May 17 and June 21. The special event for kids 12 and under is geared toward families and will offer pony rides, face painting, inflatables, a petting zoo and more. Tickets are $8 in advance and include access to the family picnic area in the new Courtyard Stretch. Check the Churchill Downs calendar for updates on planned activities.


    Racing runs Saturday, Apr. 25 through Saturday June 27; no racing Mondays and Tuesdays. Gates open at 11:30 a.m., with the first daily post at 12:40 p.m. Kentucky Oaks Friday and Kentucky Derby Saturday (May 1 and 2) gates will open at 8 a.m., with the first post at 10:30 a.m. Gates will open at 5 p.m. for Downs After Dark June 13 and 27, with a first post of 6 p.m. General admission is $3 ($35 on Kentucky Oaks, $55 on Kentucky Derby ($80 for both) and $10 on Downs After Dark). Children 12 and under are free. For reserved seating information, click Derby Week or Spring Meet.  

    Photo: Courtesy Churchill Downs

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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