“They’ve made it so you can see more and be part of the process,” said Chris Riley, a Louisville native who now lives in Atlanta and has been to more than 40 Derbies. “But next year will be when we can judge it.”
When the project is complete, for the 150th Derby, it will offer terraced standing-room viewing, premium seating, club spaces and even dining options. Twenty-one saddling stalls will flank the tunnel connecting the paddock to the racetrack. The statues of Aristides, the first Derby winner, and the jockey Pat Day, the track’s all-time leader in every major category, have been moved elsewhere and will return to the paddock area when the construction is finished. The tradition of hanging a sign above the previous winner’s stall will continue as well, even with the temporary setup.
Eustace Fernandes, who has lived in Louisville since 1993, has been to at least 20 Derbies. Last year, he met Brenda Brown of Frisco, Texas, and Sheri Hightower of Denver, both longtime flight attendants, on the rail at the paddock. They have texted nearly every week ever since and were back there Friday.
“She never knew she had seats until Eustace told her,” Hightower said of Brown. “We’re always at the paddock.”
The vantage point — “the best in the house,” Fernandes said — is what they like about the new configuration. “It’s a great view of the horses, which is what the three of us love,” Hightower said.
And it’s not just the paddock that has a new look. A $90 million first turn project, essentially a three-story structure reminiscent of what you’d find at a soccer stadium, is being unveiled. It replaces a temporary seating area around the first turn and adds thousands of indoor and covered seats as well as a dining area.