Safety Concerns Move Churchill Downs to Add Pop Up & Personal Tents to List of Banned Items for Derby, Oaks

May 02, 2013

Churchill Downs Racetrack has added pop up and other patron tents and metal poles and stakes to its list of items that cannot be carried by patrons into the track on Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Days.

The ban on personal, non-vendor tents is the only change in the track’s list of hospitality and security procedures released annually prior to Churchill Downs’ biggest days. The 139th running of the $1 million-guaranteed Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) is scheduled for Friday, May 3, and the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) is set for Saturday, May 4.

Admission gates will open at 8 a.m. (all times Eastern) on both days, with post time for the first race scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

Churchill Downs has distributed the list of permitted and banned items since 2002 as a reminder to all Derby and Oaks patrons as they plan their visits to the historic track for those spectacular entertainment and racing celebrations. Track officials, working with representatives of law enforcement, government agencies and other public safety partners, significantly strengthened hospitality and security policies that year for Derby and Oaks Days and its year-round racing calendar.

The pop up and personal tents have been increasingly popular in recent years among fans that enjoy the Derby and Oaks in the 26 acres that make up the track’s infield. The decision to ban personal, non-vendor tents and the poles and stakes intended to secure them on those days grew out of safety concerns that arose from last year’s celebration of the Kentucky Oaks. A mid-afternoon threat of severe storms and high winds prompted Churchill Downs officials to order the evacuation of the infield – the first evacuation order in the 138-year history of the Oaks and Derby.

“The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks have been outdoor celebrations at Churchill Downs since 1875, but last year’s weather threat on Oaks Day was unprecedented and led to intensified post-event scrutiny of portions of our Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks operations,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “While Kentucky Oaks Day infield evacuation was smooth and the response by our patrons  wonderful, it was immediately obvious to all members of our track team and our law enforcement and public safety partners that those tents, and especially the metal poles and stakes that secured them, posed a significant safety threat to patrons, horses and anyone on our grounds.

“The fast-developing weather threat in 2012 included the possibility of heavy rain, dangerous lightning and winds of 60 miles per hour or higher, and there was no time for any infield patron to either dismantle or attempt to further secure their tents, and it’s doubtful there would be any more time to do so should we face a similar concern in this or future years. We were fortunate that the worst of the weather missed Churchill Downs that day, but the experience made this change in our hospitality policies a decision that was both easy and proper.”

The prohibition of pop up and personal non-vendor tents is the first significant change in the hospitality and security policies since 2009, when a ban on carry-in coolers to the infield established in 2002 was lifted. Coolers are now permitted for infield use only and can enter the track via Gates 1 and 3, but all are subject to search and food items must be packaged in clear plastic bags or containers.

As in each Kentucky Derby and Oaks since 2002, all patrons entering the track on those days should be prepared for a possible magnetic wand scan before they are allowed to pass through the admission gates. Those patrons are advised to plan their arrival at Churchill Downs on both days to accommodate that possible search.

Along with pop up and patron tents, poles and stakes, the list of items not permitted for carry-in on Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Days includes.

  • Glass bottles or containers;
  • Grills;
  • Alcoholic beverages;
  • Thermoses;
  • Backpacks;
  • Luggage (includes briefcases);
  • Duffel bags;
  • Wagons;
  • Umbrellas;
  • Weapons (including knives).

Items permitted for carry-in by patrons on Oaks and Derby Days include:

  • Coolers allowed in INFIELD ONLY through Gates 1 & 3.  Contents may include non-alcoholic beverages (no glass containers) and ice and food packaged in clear plastic containers.  All coolers are subject to search;
  • Food items in clear plastic bags (maximum size 18” X 18” – no trash bags – limit of two bags per person);
  •  “Box” lunches in clear plastic bags or containers (maximum size 18” X 18” – no trash bags);
  • Sunscreen (non-glass containers only);
  • Small personal music systems, radios and televisions (no boomboxes)
  • Cellular telephones, smartphones and tablets (patrons could be required to turn devices on);
  • Cameras and camcorders  (patrons could be required to turn devices on);
  • Binoculars;
  • Seat cushions (without back);                                        
  • Purses (subject to search);
  • Baby bags (subject to search);
  • Strollers (ONLY if carrying a child);
  • Chairs (Gate 3 ONLY);
  • Blankets & Tarpaulins (Gates 1 & 3 ONLY). 

Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2013 and its 2013 Spring Meet is scheduled for April 27-June 30. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at


  • Ticket Info

    Sign up for race updates and more


Thank You To Our Sponsors


Missed something? Catch up on past Churchill Downs news