Churchill Downs suffers damage
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 5:01 pm
By: By DYLAN LOVAN, Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A possible tornado damaged several horse barns at Churchill Downs, prompting track officials to temporarily halt races today at the famed Kentucky Derby horse track.
Some horses have been moved to private farms, Keeneland racetrack in Lexington and to different barns at the facility, track president Kevin Flanery said.
Flanery said multiple barns sustained damage after 7 p.m. Wednesday when the storms blew through the area, knocking down poles, trees and power to thousands in Louisville.
Flanery called off today’s racing card while workers assess damage and do repairs, but said he was optimistic racing can resume Friday and continue uninterrupted for the remaining nine days of the spring meet.
“We’re going to try and make this as easy as possible for those affected,” Flanery said.
John Gordon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville, said crews were out this morning checking three areas where possible tornadoes were reported. He said it’s “highly probable” that one hit near Churchill Downs.
Flanery said if a tornado is confirmed, it would be the first one known to strike Churchill Downs.
Track chaplain Ken Boehm said the walls, siding and roof at the chapel at the track were damaged. Dozens of groups have offered to help move debris, Boehm said.
“The church is a building, period,” Boehm said. “The real church is flesh and blood.”
The track has arranged to evacuate roughly 150 horses to the nearby Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center if needed, but Flanery was hopeful the remaining barn space at the track would be adequate.
Track officials were also working with the American Red Cross and local emergency management officials to provide temporary shelter for about 100 stable workers whose accommodations were damaged by the winds.
At the peak of the storm, the Kentucky Public Service Commission reported several thousand customers without power. That number was down to 120 in Louisville and an unknown number near Hazard in eastern Kentucky.
Eyewitnesses playing in a Texas Hold ’em poker tournament at the track 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, Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher said.
“Clearly in their eyes it was a tornado,” he said.
No races are run on Wednesdays this time of year. But besides the poker tournament, people were watching a simulcast of races from other tracks and some workers live in apartments above the damaged barns. Still, officials had no reports of injuries to humans or horses. Some minor injuries were reported elsewhere in Louisville that was inundated by torrential rains that caused flash flooding.
At least nine of the track’s 48 backside barns were damaged. The damage displaced about 200 horses and one barn was flooded by a water main break.