SBD/Issue 156/Events & Attractions

Is Kentucky Derby Under The Lights Only A Matter Of Time?

Churchill Downs Spent $4M This Winter To
Install Permanent Lights At The Track

With lights and night racing "now a successful and permanent fixture" at Churchill Downs, it is "just a matter of time" before the Kentucky Derby runs at night, according to John Clay of the LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER. With almost "every sport staging its most popular event before the largest possible television audience, the time has come for the Derby to take the plunge." Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, "I think it's inevitable. ... We have trouble with sponsorship and getting ads sold and stuff. Television has dropped from ABC and NBC to major networks to ESPN, and could be going even another direction. It may be ... something we just have to deal with." He added, "Our ratings would probably quadruple." Trainer Todd Pletcher: "We need to do everything we can to promote our sport, and get new viewers and more people." But trainer Bob Baffert said, "I don't think it would be a good idea. The thing that makes the Derby is when they show it during the day, see the people, the balloons, sky. You can't catch that at night." But Clay writes that "stubborn death grip on tradition is partly responsible for the troubles racing faces these days." Horse racing has "often been too slow to adapt, too hesitant to try new things in the name of growing its audience" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 4/27). NBC Senior VP/Strategic Marketing, Promotions & Communications Mike McCarley "isn't quite sure" the Derby "would work under the lights." McCarley: "Any sort of major time shift, that's Churchill's decision to make but there's something that's very special about the Kentucky Derby and the way that it is now. You have 136 years of tradition. You can't be doing a whole lot wrong when it's as successful as it is" (AP, 4/27).

WE'LL LEAVE THE LIGHTS ON FOR YOU: In Louisville, Gregory Hall reported Churchill Downs' Twin Spires "will have four new light poles in front of them" for the May 1 Derby, part of the track's $4M plan to "install permanent lights for night racing." Four light poles with six lights each are "in front of the oldest section of the clubhouse." Hall noted Churchill "installed them after a popular night-racing experiment a year ago using temporary lights." However, track officials have said that they "have no plans to run the Derby at night." Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said that the poles are "less intrusive than they could have been and noted that they are not attached to the historic clubhouse, which was completed for the 1895 Derby" (Louisville COURIER-TIMES, 4/24).

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