A torrential rainstorm in the Louisville area Aug. 4 has wreaked havoc at Churchill Downs. Flooding caused several horses to be removed from the barn area, both the main track and infield are completely underwater, and employees at the racetrack were unable to get off the property for hours due to severe flooding in the parking lot and on many area roads.
John Asher, vice president of communications at Churchill, said the storm began at about 8 a.m. EDT., unleashing its massive punch of heavy rain, high wind, hail and vivid lightning, and forcing the shutdown of training midway through the scheduled 6-10 a.m. session.
“We got about six inches in an hour, which is a record according to the weather service person I talked to,” Asher said. “There is another round (of rain) coming later this afternoon.
“We had to move (about 35) horses from the lower barn areas, barns 45 and 46, which is near the back end. They are not in danger, but we can’t let them stand in water so we are moving them to the Trackside (training center). The grounds crew is trying to remove as much water as they can.”
Many areas on the backside were submerged in water, including stalls, shedrows, and tackrooms.
Asher said the flooding was not a result of improper draining on the grounds, just too much rain in a short period of time.
The storm has caused chaos on the roads in Louisville, with several people having to be rescued from the tops of their vehicles by firefighters. Several people had to abandon their vehicles in order to get to safety. Officials are asking people to stay home and off the roads.
Although parts of building had water leakage, Asher said there were no injuries reported to either humans or horses at the track that could be attributed to the storm. Those who were stranded at the facility were provided with complimentary food by Churchill staff.
"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 begin 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.”