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Churchill Downs’ next project to offer rooftop views of Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs is adding rooftop views to its lineup of high-dollar seating for the Kentucky Derby.

The track’s parent company said Friday that a new rooftop garden offering prime spots overlooking the start of America’s most famous horse race will be ready in time for next year’s Derby in early May.

The rooftop lounge, to be situated atop the Starting Gate Suites on the north end of the famed track, will provide covered reserved seating for more than 250 fans and standing-room-only access for about 250 more ticketholders, Churchill Downs Inc. said.

The new space will feature upscale bars and food in a “cozy” and “party-like atmosphere,” Churchill said.

“Rooftop bars are a hot trend in the hospitality industry, and the addition of this sensational new space … will be a great benefit to our facility and deliver another unique guest experience at Churchill Downs,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs racetrack.

Churchill did not disclose Derby ticket prices for the addition, saying ticketing information will be available later this year.

The lounge will include a tiered balcony overlooking the section of track where Derby horses break from the starting gate and, after looping the track, jockey for position at the top of the homestretch on their way to the finish. It also will offer panoramic views of Louisville, the track said.

Construction will begin after Churchill hosts the Breeders’ Cup in early November.

The $5 million rooftop project is the latest in a series of upgrades at the track in the past two decades, meant to maximize revenue from the Derby and Kentucky Oaks, a race for 3-year-old fillies the day before the Derby. The venerable track seems to burst at the seams on Derby Day, when about 160,000 people pack into the track and infield.

Many of the additions have been geared toward well-heeled racing fans.

The Starting Gate Suites debuted for this year’s Derby. The $37 million project provided more than 1,800 new seats through the addition of 32 luxury seats and third-floor grandstand seats. Other projects included renovating the clubhouse and grandstand, putting in permanent lights, creating a new VIP section known as The Mansion and installing of a gigantic video board.

Baffert sweeps Grade 1 two-year-old races at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert swept the CashCall Futurity and Starlet for 2-year-olds, winning the Grade 1 races for the second straight year at Los Alamitos.

Improbable won the $300,345 Futurity by five lengths as the 1-5 favorite and 3-2 favorite Chasing Yesterday won the $300,345 Starlet by a head on Saturday. Drayden Van Dyke became the second jockey to win both races in the same year.

Baffert earned his fifth straight victory in the Futurity and his 11th overall, having won it six times at old Hollywood Park.

Improbable ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.18 and paid $2.40 to win. The colt’s ownership includes most of the group that owned Triple Crown winner Justify.

In the Starlet, Chasing Yesterday ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.59 and paid $5 to win. She is a half-sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, also trained by Baffert.

Victor Espinoza aims for January comeback

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DEL MAR, Calif. — Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza is aiming to return to riding in January, six months after he was seriously injured in a training accident.

The 46-year-old rider says he had an MRI recently and “it came out perfect.” Espinoza says he doesn’t need surgery and his spinal cord has healed “perfectly,” which was his main concern.

He fractured a vertebra in his neck at Del Mar last July when the horse he was exercising fell.

Espinoza was back at Del Mar on Saturday for the first time since the accident. He presented the trophy to the winning connections in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. He has been recuperating at his Del Mar home.

Espinoza says he hopes to return sometime in January at Santa Anita. The track opens its winter meet on Dec. 26.

He rode American Pharoah to a Triple Crown sweep in 2015.