Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Churchill Downs is a thoroughbred racetrack renowned for hosting the Kentucky Derby. Officially opened in 1875, Churchill Downs is famous for hosting the first Kentucky Derby and the first Kentucky Oaks in the same year. The racetrack has also hosted the famous Breeders' Cup on five occasions, most recently in 2000.
Churchill Downs was named after John and Henry Churchill, who leased 80 acres of land for their nephew, Colonel M. Lewis Clark (grandson of explorer William Clark). The most noticeable architectural feature of Churchill Downs is the twin spires on top of the grandstands designed by architect Joseph Dominic Baldez and built in 1895. The twin spires are used as a symbol of the track and the Derby.
Churchill Downs now covers 147 acres of land in Kentucky. The racetrack is one mile in circumference and 79 to 80 feet wide, with a 120-foot wide section for the starting gate. A turf track, inside the main track, is 7/8 of a mile and 80 feet wide. Churchill Downs has a seating capacity of 51,000. During the race, visitors can reach more than 140,000.
Recently, Churchill Downs has undergone a $121 million renovation. The clubhouse was replaced, 79 luxury suites were added and the historic twin spires were renovated. One of the noted additions in the clubhouse is a 36-foot mural by Pierre Bellocq, which represents all 96 jockeys to win the Kentucky Derby from 1875 to 2004.
Racing at Churchill Downs takes place in two meets. The spring meet begins one week before the Derby and continues until July. The Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May and the Kentucky Oaks is held on Friday, the day before the Derby. A fall meet picks up in October and ends in November.
Churchill Downs also houses the Kentucky Derby Museum, which exhibits the history of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs.