Anne M. Eberhardt

Churchill Super Looking for Fast Track

Track sloppy to start the day but maintenance officials working to make track fast.

For the first time since 2004, there is a chance the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) will be run over a sloppy track.

Track superintendent Butch Lehr cancelled training Saturday morning to enable the moisture to continue draining without the dirt surface being disrupted. Lehr said if the forecast holds for the rain to end shortly after 8 a.m., the track "could be fast by Derby time."

Since mid-afternoon Friday, about two inches of rain had fallen in the Louisville, Ky., area.

Lehr said the circumstances surrounding this year’s weather pattern are similar to that in 2007, although training was permitted on Derby day last year. One difference, he said, is that there has been more precipitation this year.

As for the turf course, Lehr said the drains were open to allow the water to run off. He noted that the grass had actually become dry so that some rain was welcome. He said the grass races should be run without having the "dogs up," in which rails are set up so the races are contested on the middle and outside parts of the course.

Rain began around the middle of the race card Friday and the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) was contested over a track labeled sloppy. Proud Spell was a deserving five-length winner for trainer Larry Jones, who Saturday will try to make history by saddling the filly Eight Belles in the Derby.

Two trainers have won the Oaks and Derby in the same year, but not with two fillies. Only three fillies have ever won the Derby.

The rain Friday caused trainer John Kimmel to scratch Elusive Lady from the Oaks.

The Churchill Downs track maintenance crew began sealing the track the moment it began raining Friday and worked through the night. The rain in the area persisted throughout the evening.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, weather officials are calling for a 10-20% chance of rain around Churchill Downs and a high of 70. There is a chance for isolated thunderstorms from 4-6 p.m. with a 30% chance of precipitation.

The Derby is scheduled to be run at 6:04 p.m.

Since 1971, there has been measurable precipitation at Churchill on Derby day just six times, most recently in 2004 when a heavy storm hit the area just before the race won by Smarty Jones.

The highest rainfall amount ever on Derby day was way back in 1918, when 2.41 inches fell.

(Additional reporting by Ron Mitchell)