Churchill Downs and local law enforcement officials expect the new security measures in place for the Kentucky Oaks and Derby May 3-4 to actually help, not hinder, patrons gain access to the facility. The plan was implemented this year in light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
There will be wand searches, and a ban on coolers, bottles, and cans. John Asher, vice president of communications for Churchill Downs, said "part of the prohibition is purely safety, but it's also a mechanism to get people through the gates quickly. We deferred to the police on this. We're not the experts."
Lt. Col. Ed Blaser of the Louisville Police Department said there will be 700 additional law enforcement officials -- 110 of them federal agents -- and a commander at every gate. He said the training process has been extensive.
"We've had walk-through training," Blaser said. "Believe me, if anything, we'll be overstaffed."
Asher noted that in previous years, when patrons could be bring coolers into the infield, there were searches that slowed access. Without cooler checks, the process could be much faster, he said.
Blaser produced a list of participating agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration Naturalization Service, the U.S. Postal Service, and even the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS is providing radios, and the postal inspection office "has all kinds of neat toys," he said.
Blaser and Asher said they don't expect the new security procedures to ruin the spirit of the Derby.
"(Churchill Downs Inc. president Tom Meeker) is a businessman, but he doesn't want this place to be a camp," Blaser said. "The officers all know what to do, and they've all been told to be expedient and reasonable. When people recognize that, I think they will appreciate it."
Asher said he believes the two Thortons stores in the infield "will be a big hit and part of Derby life from this year on out." He also said Churchill Downs and Thorntons would make no money on the new deal; Thorntons, if it does make a profit, will donate the money to charity, he said.