Torrential Rainstorm Leaves Track, Portions of Churchill Downs Under Water, Some Horses Evacuated

Aug 04, 2009 By John Asher

A torrential rainstorm that dumped a record six inches of rain in just over an hour on much of Louisville, Ky. Tuesday morning left large portions of the dirt and turf courses at Churchill Downs and other areas of the historic track under water and rising water prompted the evacuation of some Thoroughbreds from barns at the historic home of the Kentucky Derby.

    The storm unleashed its massive punch of heavy rain, high wind, hail and vivid lightning on the venerable track around 8 a.m. (all times EDT) and forced the shutdown of training midway through the scheduled 6-10 a.m. session.  

    High water prompted the evacuation of approximately 30-to-35 horses from two barns as water rose in those structures.  Those horses were moved from barns 45 and 46 at Churchill Downs, which are located next to the track’s water-covered one-mile chute, to barns at the nearby Churchill Downs Trackside training center off Poplar Level Road.

    There were no injuries reported to either humans or horses at the track that could be attributed to the storm.

    At mid-afternoon, track officials were preparing for a second blast of wind and rain forecast to move through the city during the late-to-mid afternoon hours.  Employees of Churchill Downs and its parent company, Churchill Downs Incorporated, who had arrived before the storm hit were allowed to start leaving the track, which had been surrounded by high water throughout the day.

    “We had many employees that not only weathered the storm here at Churchill Downs, but rolled up their sleeves and waded into rising water to help visitors, motorists and fellow employees who were endangered in the flood,” said Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery.  “We deeply appreciate the efforts of those members of our team from all departments in our track who went well beyond their normal duties to help out in this unusual weather event.  We continue to watch the weather and will be prepared to move any people and horses who might be threatened by rising water in this ongoing and extreme weather event.”

    Veteran track superintendent Butch Lehr said there would be no training on Wednesday, Aug. 5 as his crew would be inspecting possible damage to the main track from the rain and floodwaters and doing repair work.  He said those crews could not being that work until all the rain had passed.

    “I’ve been here 42 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Lehr.  “I’ve got pictures in my office from a similar situation that occurred in 1983, but this was worse.” 

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