Anne M. Eberhardt

Churchill Preparing for Large Oaks Day Crowd

Officials at Churchill Downs were bracing for a large crowd at the track April 30.

On the morning of April 30, all the elements were coming together for two storms: the perfect storm that could result in a record crowd for the Kentucky Oaks and the heavy thunderstorms that are forecast for May 1, the day of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

"Certainly, we are prepared for big crowd today and I can assure you that we have our food service and other personnel fully staffed to handle it," said John Asher, vice president of communications for the Louisville track.

The National Weather Service is forecasting sun and a high temperature of 83 degrees for the Friday Oaks card. That, combined with the growing popularity of Oaks Day and the presence of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) on the card could give fans more incentive to come to the track Friday rather than face the weather elements for the Derby.

Beginning at 11 a.m. (EDT) on Derby Day, the forecast is for a 70% chance of heavy thunderstorms through the running of the Kentucky Derby.

The record crowd for the Oaks was the 111,243 who witnessed the 2005 victory of Summerly. Last year, during the down economy, attendance was 104,867.

"Right now, it is a picture perfect day," Churchill Downs racetrack president Kevin Flanery said at 8 a.m. "We’re anticipating a great Oaks and Derby Day. I hate to say that we would be using the Oaks as a trial run for Derby Day (crowds), but our staff is ready for today."

The weather generated the greatest buzz on the backstretch on Oaks morning, as there were no major developments involving Derby or Oaks horses. Overall, it was much quieter than it had been earlier in the week when hordes of racing fans and locals descended on the track to take a gander at the Derby prospects.

On Oaks Day, stable area access was greatly restricted, as were training hours. With an early 10:30 a.m. post time, workouts and any racetrack activity by Derby and Oaks horses had to be concluded by 8 a.m.