“Anyone who had an empty stall, we put ’em in,” Fires said.
Details are still coming in by the moment.
Storms hit Kentucky Derby track; horses, humans OK
By BRUCE SCHREINER , 06.23.11, 01:15 AM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The famed Churchill Downs horse race track, longtime home to the running of the Kentucky Derby, was hit by a possible tornado Wednesday, knocking down parts of barns and chasing out horses that ran loose before being corralled.
Hours after the storm hit, officials had no reports of injuries to humans or horses at the track that draws the attention of horse racing fans worldwide the first Saturday of each May.
The National Weather Service said radar tracked a confirmed tornado south of downtown near the track and the University of Louisville campus about 8:10 p.m. Though no races are run on Wednesdays, a simulcast of races elsewhere was being shown at the track, and a Texas Hold ’em poker tournament was being held, officials said.
At least nine of the track’s 48 backside barns were damaged, as was the chapel. The barn damage, displacing about 200 horses, was in an area of the track where workers live in apartments above barns. One barn was flooded by a water main break.
It’s a hell of a mess back here,” track spokesman John Asher said of the barn area where the damage was concentrated.
Louisville fire Capt. Salvador Melendez said safe areas were found for the horses overnight at the track. The track said it was arranging for the possible evacuation of about 150 horses to the nearby state fairgrounds. Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington also offered stall space if needed, Asher said.
The powerful winds also damaged living quarters for about 100 people who work in the stable area, and arrangements were being made to provide them temporary shelter, the track said.
Much of the track was spared, including the iconic twin spires above the clubhouse overlooking the finish line that were apparently not damaged, said track President Kevin Flanery.
“Clearly we’ve got several barns with significant damage and we’re just trying to make sure people and the animals are safe first,” Flanery said.
Security guards told reporters that some horses had gotten loose for a time but were later caught. At least 1,300 horses were stabled at Churchill, said vice president of racing Donnie Richardson.
Several people taking part in the poker tournament said they saw the rotation in the clouds and then saw swirling winds touch down along the backstretch and skip diagonally through the barn area, Asher said.
“Clearly in their eyes it was a tornado.” Asher said. A National Weather Service team will determine whether a tornado or straight line winds did the damage.
Trainer William “Jinks” Fires had to find new living quarters for 24 horses in a barn that had part of its roof torn off. Water was knee-high in the barn after pipes broke.
“I was home in my pajamas,” he said. “But it didn’t take me long to get here.”
Other trainers offered empty stall space for the horses he trains.
“Anyone who had an empty stall, we put ’em in,” Fires said.
The 137th Kentucky Derby, run this year on May 7, brought in a crowd of more than 160,000. The annual spring tradition, the first leg of horseracing’s Triple Crown, is known as much for its mint juleps and fancy hats as the racing.
The track, owned by Churchill Downs Inc. ( CHDN – news – people ), underwent extensive renovations in 2002 and 2003 totaling more than $200 million. Thursday’s racing card, training and simulcast wagering operations were canceled because of the damage. The track has nine live racing days left in its spring meet that runs until July 4.
In August 2009, a flash flood heavily damaged the Kentucky Derby Museum, situated just off Gate 1 at Churchill Downs. The museum was closed for nine months while it underwent a $5.5 million renovation.
No damage has been reported at the university, which is sparsely populated at this time of year, said John Drees, a university spokesman. Scattered reports of damage to buildings in the Louisville metro area were reported from the storms that continued to move through into the night. The worst damage appeared to be in the Churchill Downs area, though, said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
Eyewitnesses said they saw about a dozen power poles downed near the track and university. Some 2,600 customers were without power around the Louisville area at about midnight.
Storm sirens wailed in Kentucky’s largest city as multiple tornado warnings were issued as the storm went through.
“It looks like we dodged what could have been a really bad … evening,” Poynter said.
Associated Press writers Janet Cappiello, Beth Campbell and Joe Edwards contributed to this report. Edwards reported from Nashville, Tenn. AP freelancer Josh Abner also contributed to this report.
( Full story on link )
Security guards were turning away reporters, citing danger from the loose horses. Vans were being brought in to move horses out of torrential downpours, and at least one barn was flooded by a water main break, Asher said.
Rogers Beasley, director of racing at Keeneland, said the Lexington track was working with Churchill and Sallee Horse Vans to coordinate shelter for horses and people displaced by the tornado. “We are aware of the situation and our primary concern is the safety and welfare of both the horses and the people who take care of them,” Beasley said.
A Louisville police officer stands in the middle of the intersection of Third Street and Southern Parkway just south of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, June 22, 2011 that is blocked in all four directions by downed trees and power lines. An apparent tornado passed through the area knocking out power and damaging barn roofs at the race track. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
By all reports of this writing both the People and Horses are alive and that’s all that counts.
Will update as any further details come in over the wire.
Thoughts and Prayers go out to all at Churchill Downs. From this Groom and the Michigan Horse Racing community.
UPDATE: 7:33AM 6/23/11
Daily Racing Form
Full Story on link.
According to Twitter reports from Churchill Downs publicist Darren Rogers, the nine Churchill barns to be damaged were Nos. 5, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, and 40. There was also damage to the track chapel, downed trees on the property, and a broken water main.
From Churchill Downs
Just looking at some of the barn roofs torn off and damage on this footage, you realized how fortunate and blessed the people and horses were to have not sustained worse.
So there is a very bright side to this story.
UPDATE 1:22AM 6/24/11
Additional Video From Thursday
And on one note: you hear the Chaplin of CHD and a Trainer talking saying ” It didn’t matter who they worked for if they saw a horse in need, they were there helping ” people running with shanks trying to free trapped horses.
Well I already know this fact and so does anybody in the Horse Racing business. But to everybody else this is what Horse People are all about. When it comes to the welfare of a horse and they’re in trouble your worst enemy comes running. And that’s the way it ought to be and I don’t think we would have it any other way.
We may be one argumentative family that always don’t get along or personalities clash. But when it comes to horses in trouble…..
This family is there on the spot to help.
This tribe is called ” The People Of The Horse Nation ” and I’m proud to have been a member of it all of my adult life.
People who work with horses are a unique and a hard-working 7 day a week from sun up to sun down bunch. And they deserve a lot more respect than people who are not in this Industry give them.
UPDATE 8:03AM 6/24/11