In 1902 Churchill Downs was in financial dire straits, so much so that the Kentucky Derby could have ended.
This calamity was avoided though in large part due to the work of local businessman Matt Winn.
Winn’s story in regards to the track begins with the first running of the Kentucky Derby in 1875, an event that Winn was taken to by his dad. Instantly Winn fell in love with the pageantry and spectacle that was horse racing, more than that he found a passion for Churchill Downs, so when the track felt economic peril and Winn had since become a successful businessman that child in him that had enjoyed the equine event so much came out. And, of course he saw the overarching money that he could make personally.
Winn went to work, collecting a group of investors to take control of the track. What Winn did next is really where his own business genius excelled that is in the art of marketing. Adding promotions, and improving facilities Winn essentially turned the track around with a keen understanding of a market which he was so passionate about and more than that a business that he knew.
In fact Winn’s first year was the first year that Churchill Downs ever ended the season having made money. Perhaps seeing it himself, Winn cultivated a marketable aura surrounding the Kentucky Derby, turning it from a modest horse race to a true spectacle; the most important horse race in the country.
Nothing demonstrated more the power that the Derby had gained under Winn than when the businessman appeared on the cover of Time Magazine on May 10, 1937.
Prior to leaving the track Winn was granted the honor of being named a Kentucky Colonel, and because of the ability to really build the mystique around the most exciting three minutes in the sports world Matt Winn is without question a sports legend of the Ville.
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