Video board brings race closer to Derby fans
Looming over the Churchill Downs track, a gigantic video board making its Kentucky Derby debut Saturday gave the huge crowd a living-room view.
The horses were shown in super-sized form as the track's newest landmark gave fans attending the 140th Derby the feeling of being up close to the colts.
The view was especially sweet for the throngs of infield fans. In past years, some of them routinely left without seeing a horse.
"It was fun to watch, I could see everything," said Jon Simpson, who watched the video board from the infield as California Chrome pulled away to win the Derby.
Lewis Grant, of Louisville, said the old video board was "almost like looking at a smart phone" compared to the giant screen.
"That board is epic," he said. "It's totally changed the dynamic of the infield."
The Derby drew a crowd of 164,906, the second-largest attendance in history. The fans basked in breezy temperatures in the low 70s.
The infield lawn in front of the giant TV was a popular spot, with flocks of fans staking out spots hours before the Run for the Roses.
"I come for the infield party, and we get the best of that and sitting at home," said Laura Stack, a race fan from Michigan.
The "Big Board" towers over the backstretch and even rises higher than the iconic Twin Spires at the track.
Danny Stuck camped out with friends beneath the screen. They stared up at it at a 45-degree angle, in a spot where they've gathered for years.
"That's the best thing that Churchill Downs has ever done," Stuck, a 69-year-old Derby regular, said while marveling at the screen.
People-watching and celebrity sightings were a popular activity when the horses weren't running, along with checking out the colorful plumed hats, a Derby fashion staple.
Musicians Miranda Lambert, Richie Sambora and Mike Mills from R.E.M. made appearances, along with former NBA star Scottie Pippen, the NFL's Ndamukong Suh and retired baseball player Ken Griffey Jr.
The video board became another star attraction.
Towering 170 feet over the backstretch, the high-definition, $12 million video screen is bigger than three basketball courts as well as the monstrous four-sided display at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
It's backed by 750 speakers installed throughout the track.
Watching the video board beat jostling for a coveted infield spot along the fence, where you can get a quick look at the blur of horses racing past. The only ones not paying attention to the board might be the horses.
"When you're right next to it, all you see is the columns," said Ryan J. Jordan, general manager of the Churchill Downs racetrack. "You're too close to it to actually see the board."