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Churchill Downs adding giant video board

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The home of the Kentucky Derby wants to make sure every fan attending the famous race actually sees the horses running.

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Churchill Downs said Monday it will install a video board bigger than three basketball courts to give fans a giant-size view of the thoroughbreds stampeding along the track.

The track is teaming with Panasonic for the $12 million project expected to be done early next year - well ahead of the Run for Roses on the first Saturday in May.

``It's going to present coverage of the race unlike anything we've ever been able to do before,'' said Ryan Jordan, the track's general manager.

Track officials said the 15,224-square-foot, high-definition LED video board will be installed about midway along the backstretch and outside the dirt course.

The video board's position will maximize the viewing angle for fans in the 55,638 clubhouse and grandstand seats and the tens of thousands of fans packed in the track's 26-acre infield for the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. The Oaks is a race for 3-year-old fillies run the day before the Derby.

The two days of racing are a revenue bonanza for the track's parent company, Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc.

Attendance at this year's Derby - the first leg of the Triple Crown - was 151,616, down slightly because of rain. Last year's attendance was 165,307. The Kentucky Oaks drew 113,820 spectators this year.

The new giant screen is meant to accommodate some infield fans lucky to get a glimpse of the horses, and those in the grandstands who see only parts of the track.

``It's a common phrase you used to hear, especially for fans who were participating in the Oaks or the Derby in the infield, a phrase like, `You might come out to the Oaks and Derby and have a great time, but you might not ever see a horse,''' Jordan said. ``And that has to do with the sheer size of our venue.''

The giant screen will replace two smaller video boards facing the clubhouse and grandstand, Jordan said. Churchill also used to bring in about a half-dozen temporary video boards for Oaks and Derby days for fans in the infield and other far-reaching areas of the track. The rentals will no longer be needed, he said.

Once installed, the bottom edge of the 171-foot-wide video board will loom 80 feet above the ground and will top out at 170 feet in height. The video board and supporting steel structure will weigh more than 1 million pounds.

Track officials said the safety of jockeys and horses was the overriding issue while developing the project. The screen's location will avoid disrupting the race, they said.

``When the horses pass it, it's going to be to the side of them and not in their line of sight,'' Jordan said.

The ``Big Board'' will be larger than three basketball courts, five average-size U.S. homes and 2,200 46-inch flat-screen TVs, the track said.

The new screen also will enhance coverage of the spectacle of the Derby - from celebrity sightings to the flamboyant outfits and hats worn by fans, track officials said.

It also will give Churchill more clout in selling advertising packages shown on the big screen.

As part of the project, the track will improve the sound system to ensure everyone can easily hear the race calls.

The track plans to unveil the video board to the public a week before the May 3 Kentucky Derby next year.

The video board is the latest upgrade at the historic track, which has undergone more than $160 million in renovations since 2005. This past summer, the track said it would add 2,400 grandstand seats, including a rooftop VIP lounge area. Another recently added VIP section fetches thousands of dollars per ticket for the Derby and Oaks.

The track also has renovated the clubhouse and grandstand and installed permanent lighting for the dirt track and turf course in recent years.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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