Horse Racing Events

Although live thoroughbred horse racing is usually limited to the favorable weather months during the year (May to September), horse racing tracks are an excellent venue for corporate events and social event function space year round. And many tracks have several group event and special event coordinators on staff to help planners with nearly all […]
Business Events at Churchill Downs
Race tracks offer a full range of group event packages including private dining, block seating and more. Consider a morning meeting followed by an afternoon of hospitality at the races. Photo: Courtesy of Churchill Downs.

Although live thoroughbred horse racing is usually limited to the favorable weather months during the year (May to September), horse racing tracks are an excellent venue for corporate events and social event function space year round. And many tracks have several group event and special event coordinators on staff to help planners with nearly all business events: meetings, employee outings, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, etc.

As a first step, event planners should familiarize themselves with some betting basics and horse racing terminology. The next step is to really understand the park and the various facilities available for meetings and entertainment.

Meeting and Social Event Spaces, Catering Packages

Many thoroughbred race tracks will have several different rooms available for meetings, banquets and other special events. In fact, it’s common for events to schedule a morning meeting in one of these rooms, and then hosts will move their group to one of the suites with an incredible view of the race track (if the meeting isn’t held in one of such spaces) or an outdoor space to enjoy an afternoon of entertainment.

Meeting room rental fees will usually reflect a minimum cost for an identified number of guests or have a required food and beverage minimum. Packaged options will include use of the meeting room space and catering menu for a three hour program.

Catering packages include a full range of options. Planners have a choice of breakfast packages (continental or traditional), building lunch menus, or planning a fine dining experience. The choices are flexible to meet the planner’s needs.

About A/V Options

Many planners are used to working with hotels and other venues that store a volume of A/V equipment on promise. This isn’t the case with thoroughbred race tracks.

Many thoroughbred race tracks contract with third party suppliers to handle such services, and event rental equipment is frequently stored off-premise. Therefore, it’s critical for planners to anticipate all technical requirements in advance of the program, possibly even renting more equipment than may be necessary.

This will protect the planner from experiencing a potentially embarrassing situation, such as ill-functioning lavaliere microphones or projector equipment.

That said, thoroughbred race tracks offer something that’s very useful to special events: many of the larger rooms and function spaces where events are held have multiple closed-circuit TV system throughout the room.

It is strongly recommended that the event planner work closely with the organizer’s graphics department to create video that can be broadcast during the meeting at particular times.

Suite Options

Suite options are similar to every other sporting arena: private luxury suites are available for smaller groups (e.g., 12-20 guests), and larger suites are available for as many as 100 guests; some tracks may combine suites to accommodate the larger group, depending on suite availability.

Suites usually have a combination of indoor/outdoor space with incredible views of the track for the race. Extravagant or causal buffet options are available, and a full open bar is usually standard. A suite attendant is assigned, but bartenders are also available for hire.

Overview of Group Events at the Park

The minimum number of guests to quality for a group event is frequently 12 persons, although it’s possible to have groups fill the largest banquet and dining facilities.

For those planners organizing a meeting or event during a race day (which is frequently the most popular time to schedule such events), it’s important for event planners to know the various ticket options available at the race track, and which areas of the park those tickets permit access.

Of course, general admission tickets provide access to the main floor of most tracks, and seats are available on a first come first served basis along the apron.

Beyond the basic admission ticket, it’s helpful for event planners to understand what group ticket options are available:

  1. Box Seats.
    These seats are typically located outdoor, in good view of the finish line and under covered shelter.
  2. Reserved Clubhouse Seats.
    These seats are typically located on the third floor of the clubhouse. It provides an indoor seat with the ability to step outside and watch the race from a balcony.
  3. Indoor Dining Room Seating Options.
    It may be surprisingly more cost effective for reserve a number of tables in one of the park’s dining rooms than some may think. It will require a table or per person fee, and the expense associated with food and beverage, but it may be an excellent location to host any number of special events at the race track.
  4. Outdoor Dining and Picnic Area Options.
    In addition to the general admission ticket price, for a table fee it is possible to host a group outdoors with the service of the park’s outdoor dining options (reservations are suggested to obtain these).

Additional Special Event Options

Many group event packages already include convenient access to private mutual tellers and valet parking programs. However, depending on the special event being held at a thoroughbred race track, event planners will want to consider some of the other options available that help make such an event memorable for guests:

  • Trophy presentation
  • Winner’s circle photo
  • Special occasion desserts (e.g., cakes)
  • JumboTron messaging
  • Pre-paid valet parking
  • Mutuel vouchers (e.g., $2, $5, $10, $20 amounts)

Tip: Request to have mutual vouchers pre-printed with the name of your event or the host organization’s name.

Go-Baby-Go!

Rob is editor of Business Travel Destinations. He was voted among the top 10 business travel bloggers by USA TODAY 10Best. Rob reviews international destinations for meetings and events -- where business travelers go, the hotels where they stay and their lifestyle preferences on the road. He spent more than a decade planning hundreds of corporate events throughout the U.S. for a Fortune 50 company, including meetings, conferences, seminars, executive retreats and other special events. Rob was previously the event planning guide for About.com (owned by The New York Times Company) from 2007 - 2011. His articles have appeared in business travel publications and travel sites internationally.