Churchill Downs

Project Overview

Motz, recognized for its expertise in building high-performance sports fields, expanded their project portfolio by taking on its first horse racetrack renovation. In August 2021 The Motz Group joined forces with Calhoun Construction, STRI, a European racetrack consultant, and Dr. Trey Rogers, Michigan State University agronomy professor, to design and install a new grass course at Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs is home to the iconic Kentucky Derby, the longest-running American sports event.

Planning, designing, and building the new grass track at Churchill Downs all happened during the pandemic, complicating the process and leading to myriad challenges and delays. Motz worked closely with the entire team to mitigate the issues by finding collaborative solutions that kept the project as close to the plan and budget as possible.

This project was the first significant upgrade to the historic stadium’s grass track in over thirty years. The plans widened the track, re-established slopes and banked turns, and improved drainage all designed to increase the track’s durability and ensure a safe and consistent high-performing grass surface Jockeys will use the reconstructed track for the first time in the spring of 2022.

Drawings and specifications were distributed in early 2020, but construction was postponed until 2021. Track demolition commenced in July and the renovation was completed with the installation of the sod in late October.

Louisville, KY


Field Installation

The Situation

Since the facilities were last worked on, rules and regulations impacting thoroughbred racing have been enacted. Stadium management wanted to ensure industry compliance by re-establishing uniform grass levels, upgrading drainage and irrigation components, and increasing the track width. Up to fifteen Motz field specialists were onsite each day to manage logistics and coordinate with their subcontractors and other affiliated workers. Because the historic dirt racetrack was not being worked on, Churchill Downs’ management team did not allow any heavy machinery on the dirt. Consequently, every bit of equipment and material traversed through the tunnel under the dirt track to the interior grass track.

The Play

Although the construction process was similar to a high-performance natural grass sports field, the scale certainly wasn’t. Nearly 25,000 cubic yards of track were excavated and replaced, six miles of new drainage lines were installed, and more than 10 acres of Tahoma 31 sod were laid down.

To manage costs, field specialists stockpiled as much of the clean rootzone sand as possible and blended it on-site with new sand to produce the final specified product. The existing track materials that were unusable for the new track were repurposed offsite by the facility’s landscaping partner.

Overall, the site was excavated, the subgrade established, new drainage and irrigation installed, then 6” of gravel drainage raft and 12” of rootzone sand was placed and laser graded. Finally, pre-plant fertilizers were spread and the surface readied for Bermudagrass sod installation. The Motz Group also managed the railing and timing system upgrades, including cameras, sensors, and other specialized race-monitoring technologies.

Grass track reconstruction was one of Churchill Downs’ largest projects. Being able to rely on Motz’s extensive expertise made life a lot less stressful. Their continuous communication kept everyone up to speed and their willingness to flex and adapt kept the project on time and on budget.

James Richardson | Churchill Downs Track Superintendent

The Win

  • CUSTOM DESIGN: Renovations to the world-famous track were expertly handled by the team of professional designers and builders Churchill Downs assembled. The end result was the Motz team’s on-time delivery of a beautiful, high-performing grass track that will serve the client for many years to come.
  • HIGH-TOUCH PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Because of the pandemic, much of the planning and communication between Motz and the design consultants were done virtually. This required laser-focused and high-touch management throughout the process.
  • ENHANCED PERFORMANCE: The Motz team constructed a new 85’ wide natural grass track that accommodates four racing lanes. Upgrades to the root zone, irrigation, and drainage systems produced a consistent and durable, state-of-the-art professional natural grass racetrack befitting iconic Churchill Downs.

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