As a result of threatening weather that prompted evacuation of the infield at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day last year, the Louisville track 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 for this year's Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
According to a memorandum from Churchill, the ban on personal, non-vendor tents is the first significant change in hospitality and security procedures since 2009 when a ban on carry-in coolers into the infield was lifted. The 139th running of the $1 million-guaranteed Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) is scheduled for Friday, May 3, and the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is set for Saturday, May 4.
Admission gates will open at 8 a.m. (EDT) 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.
The track said 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 during last year's Oaks when a mid-afternoon threat of severe storms and high winds prompted Churchill Downs officials to order the evacuation of the infield for the first time 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, in a statement. "While the 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."
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;
—Luggage (includes briefcases);
—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);
—Seat cushions (without back);
—Purses (subject to search);
—Baby bags (subject to search);
—Strollers (Only if carrying a child);
—Chairs (Gate 3 only);
—Blankets and Tarpaulins (Gates 1 & 3 Only).
Churchill's release also noted that 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.