Masaharu Morimoto will serve his Asian fusion fare in the Mansion, the most exclusive premium area at Churchill Downs. (Courtesy Churchill Downs)
Organizers of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships are cooking up something special for guests at thoroughbred racing’s year-end meet when it comes to historic Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Friday and Saturday, offering eight celebrity chefs to cater to horse racing fans.
The all-star chef lineup includes Masaharu Morimoto, Amanda Freitag and Hugh Acheson as well as local Louisville culinary leader Anthony Lamas.
Breeders’ Cup officials say they commissioned the chefs as part of the sport’s move to offer more upscale and unique experiences, especially in the premium seating areas.
“We are trying to create an event that offers a greater lifestyle experience, combining the best horses, jockeys, trainers and purses in the sport with world-class hospitality, high-end fashion and luxury entertainment events,” said Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup CEO and president.
Fravel also notes that the Breeders’ Cup is tapping into the strengths of the host venue: “Since last hosting the Breeders’ Cup (in 2011), Churchill Downs has invested more than $100 million in upgrades, with an increase in luxury seating, improvement of open spaces and circulation and enhancement in dining capabilities.”
Churchill Downs executives look forward to showcasing these renovations to fans who may not attend other races at the track. Attendance for the 2011 event at Churchill was 105,820.
The signature race at Churchill, and historically in North American thoroughbred racing, is the Kentucky Derby, run each year on the first Saturday in May.
“Events at Churchill Downs like the Kentucky Derby are more than just sporting events. They are social occasions where guests spend time together between as many as 12 races throughout the day,” said Sara Brown Meehan, director of lifestyle communications for Churchill Downs.
“Food and drink have always been a big part of attending an event at Churchill Downs. We know from our customer surveys that they are two of the things that our premium guests value the most,” she said.
The Breeders’ Cup’s Fravel says part of the motivation for ordering up celebrity chefs stems from the desire to expand the fan base to include more young people. “In today’s world, particularly with millennials, you have to provide a memorable experience that delivers across multiple facets of an event. We’ve made a concentrated effort over the past few years to widen the appeal of the Breeders’ Cup in order to capture the attention of a new, broad audience of fans and sponsors.”
The offerings will be varied. Freitag, an author and a judge on Food Network’s “Chopped,” will set up shop in the Finish Line Suites on Saturday while Lamas’ fusion of Spanish, Latin and Puerto Rican culinary styles will be on display in the Trophy Lounge both days. Morimoto will create and dish out his Asian fusion food Saturday on the sixth floor in the Mansion, the most exclusive premium area at the track.
Churchill Downs’ executives say that so far the renovations and the addition of more upscale offerings have paid off. “Whether it’s bringing in a celebrity chef, serving local Southern fare or offering substantial snacks in the afternoon, our food and beverage experiences have contributed to a continued increase in revenue and demand for premium seats among all of our audiences,” Meehan said.
The Breeders’ Cup in recent years has alternated between tracks in California and Kentucky. That tradition will continue for at least the next three years: The championships will be run at Santa Anita Park just outside of Los Angeles in 2019, at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington in 2020, and then back in California at Del Mar, near San Diego, for 2021.