Anne M. Eberhardt

Weather the Big Question for Oaks, Derby

Rain forecast for Friday afternoon, all day Saturday.

The song says the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home, but there is no sun shining Kentucky Oaks morning, and the weather is the big topic of conversation.

Owners, trainers, and racing fans have been watching the skies over Louisville, Ky., all week. It was not raining as the abbreviated training hours ended May 1, necessitated by an early first post of 10:30 a.m. (EDT) both Oaks and Derby days.

One of those intently watching the track was trainer John Shirreffs, who will have to make a decision on whether or not he will scratch champion Zenyatta from her first start of the year, scheduled for the Louisville Handicap (gr. II) May 1.

Post time for the Louisville Handicap is 2:10 and the greatest chance of rain during the Oaks card is said to be about 3 p.m. Shirreffs has said he would not run the big daughter of Street Cry on an off track.

According to forecasters, the greatest chance for rain prior to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is the afternoon of May 2, when the chance for precipitation jumps to 70%.

If the dress of Churchill personnel and early arrivals is any indication, it will be a very pink day at the track. The track has asked patrons May 1 to wear pink in support of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure, the cancer charity to which Churchill Downs will donate a minimum of $100,000. If the Oaks attendance were to pass the current record, of 111,243, Churchill will donated $1 for each Oaks attendee, up to a maximum of $135,000.

This is the 135th running of the Oaks and Derby.

How much the recession will impact Derby weekend is another concern. Normally hotel rooms and dinner reservations in Louisville are booked months in advance, but some of both were still available and some hotels were not requiring the normal three-night stay.

Of course rain Friday afternoon or night, or Saturday morning, could impact the size of the infield crowd.

Still, racing fans everywhere are anxious to see Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks, an obviously talented filly trained by one of the game’s most well-liked horseman, Hal Wiggins.

And, there is a 20-horse field awaiting the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, with no clear-cut favorite and many intriguing story lines.