Members of the track maintenance team check the track for storm debris.

Members of the track maintenance team check the track for storm debris.

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography

Churchill Officials Continue to Assess Damage

Damage was inflicted by a tornado that packed top winds of 105 miles per hour.

Officials with Churchill Downs have revised the number of horses displaced by the June 22 tornado that damaged nine barns at the Louisville, Ky., track, estimating that between 75 to 100 had to be relocated as a result of the storm’s damage.

Churchill officials initially estimated as many as 150 to 200 horses were removed from the damaged barns, but adjusted the number later June 23 as they continued to assess the full extent of the damage from the storm that hit with little warning shortly after 8 p.m. EDT June 22. Thirty of the displaced horses were relocated to Keeneland in Lexington, some were moved to other areas within the Churchill stable area, and others went to private farms or training centers.

Also, Churchill reported that 6 1/2 of the nine damaged barns have been declared unihabitable by fire department officials.

In a release Churchill said Joe Sullivan of the National Weather Service office in Louisville toured the stable area June 24 and confirmed that the damage was inflicted by a tornado that packed top winds of 105 miles per hour as it roared through the Churchill stable area and was rated as an F1 storm on the Fujita Scale, the official classification system for tornado damage.

After being closed June 23, Churchill Downs was expected to resume live racing with the June 24 edition of the track’s popular “Downs After Dark” racing program.

Racing secretary Ben Huffman said owners and trainers--even those in the storm-damaged barns--pledged their support for the track’s plan to resume its spring meet, which has eight racing days remaining following the storm-related cancellation.

“So far every trainer that had barn damage and had horses in (Friday) night has reported their horses are fine and they’re running,” Huffman said.  “That goes for (June 25) as well. Our horsemen are resilient and they are supporting us 100%, and we could not be more proud of our horsemen for stepping up during this adversity.

"It’s trying times, but they are absolutely with us in getting this together so that we can race.”

While tornado damage to some barns was substantial, no injuries were reported to humans or horses. The story was quite different in the track’s clubhouse and grandstand. Vice president of operations David Sweazy said those areas, and the track’s signature Twin Spires, were untouched.

“The frontside (of the track) has sustained no damage at all,” Sweazy said. “We don’t have water damage; there isn’t a blade of grass bent over on the frontside. We have done a complete assessment. We’ve walked on the rooftops and through every area and tested everything, and there is no damage.”

Structural engineers and architects were on hand June 24 to inspect the storm-damaged barns as track officials worked to assess the total damage caused by the storm. Members of the track maintenance team combed the dirt track and turf course for storm debris, and used magnetic devices to search for nails or other metal items that could have fallen on the track as the storm’s swirling winds passed by.

National Weather Service records indicate the June 22 tornado was not the first to hit Churchill, which conducted its first race meet in May of 1875. NWS records of tornadoes recorded in Jefferson County, Ky., describe an unusual winter tornado that touched down at about 7:20 a.m. Jan. 19, 1928. That storm damaged homes on Longfield and Dresden avenues near the track before it crossed into what is now the stable area of Churchill.

The number of barns located on the property now is significantly larger than in 1928, but a NWS map indicates the path of that larger storm was very similar to the June 22 tornado.