The Rolling Stones (pictured) and Alice Cooper usher in the era of rock and roll at Churchill Downs.

The Rolling Stones (pictured) and Alice Cooper usher in the era of rock and roll at Churchill Downs.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Stones Rock and Roll Beneath Churchill Downs' Twin Spires

The Rolling Stones didn't play "Wild Horses" during their groundbreaking concert at Churchill Downs Friday night. But they did perform "Dead Flowers," which featured Mick Jagger singing about roses and Kentucky Derby (gr. I) Day, as rain fell on the Twin Spires.

The Stones' appearance was a historic first for the Kentucky track, which never before had hosted a major concert. Jagger told the crowd: "This is the first time anybody's played in this particular gig." He described the experience as "fantastic."

There was a 300-ton, 92-foot high stage in the infield, with flashing, multi-colored lights and towering bursts of flames when the band tore into "Sympathy for the Devil." The seating area stretched across the main track and turf course.

At the request of Churchill officials, the Stones toned down their presentation on this stop of their "A Bigger Bang" tour, according to John Asher, a track vice president.

"The one thing that was in the contract was there could not be anything with explosions," Asher said. "There were obviously some flashes, and there was a fire there at the end during "Sympathy for the Devil." But there were no explosions. That was the big concern: that there would be something that would unnerve the horses. Any loud booms and bangs were forbidden. I actually talked to a couple trainers. I saw Ralph Nicks and some other folks who were here at the concert, and they were all smiles when they left. We didn't hear any complaints back there (on the backside)."

In the end, it was only rock and roll and the horses' didn't seem to mind, according to trainer Angel Montano, whose barn is located next to the track behind where the stage was set up.

"I stayed until about 10 o'clock, and the horses were pretty good," he said. "It could have been bad, but they weren't bothered by all the noise and stuff."

The horses were more interested in the mounted police on the backstretch, Montano added, pricking up their ears because they weren't used to seeing other horses strolling by so late at night.

Churchill's main track and turf course, which were covered and protected by a product known as Terraplas, held up well, according to Butch Lehr, a vice president who serves as the track superintendent.

"So far, so good," said Lehr the morning after the concert. "Before the concert, we rolled down the track, got it tight, and sealed it, and we cut it (the grass) short. The turf is good and green, and it was trying to grow through the stuff they covered it with. It will recover quickly. I'll grade the track after they (the stage assembly crew) leaves today, and the track should be in good shape. At this point, everything looks good."

There were cookouts and parties scattered throughout the Churchill backstretch the night of the concert. Before going to the frontside to see the Stones perform, trainer Paul McGee enjoyed the burgers and brats being grilled by a friend, Danny Bell.

"I've got three guys at the barn that are going to man the horses," McGee said. "If the horses go too bonkers, I asked them to hook up a shank and to stand there and hold them at the front of the stall. We closed all the bottom doors (of the stalls) at feed time as a precaution."

On Saturday, McGee reported that the horses weren't bothered by the noise.

"The horses didn't do anything," he said. "The concert was a huge success."

Track announcer Luke Kruytbosch partied at Barn 1 during the performance of opening act Alice Cooper.

"I'm just having fun back here," he said. "Actually, I've played golf with Alice Cooper before. I met him at the Phoenix Open. He was tremendous."

While Kruytbosch relaxed, other members of Churchill staff were trying to make sure everything went smoothly for the media covering the event, handing out tickets and wrist bands, and escorting photographers to the stage.

"We're really pleased with the experience," Asher said. "It was the biggest non-racing event that we've ever had at Churchill Downs. Things went pretty well. We would have loved for it to have been a little dryer and a little warmer, but the crowd didn't seem to mind. You had some problems like inebriated people - things I think you would normally have at a concert venue with 50,000 people. But, generally, everywhere I walked tonight people were saying they had a great time. Even when they left early because they were cold and wet, they said, 'We had a great time' and were thanking us for doing it. I don't think it's an exaggeration to call it a historic night for Churchill Downs. We've never done anything like that ever. I sure think the door is open for another event like this. We didn't go into this thinking it was a big extension of our business. It was just a great opportunity. The people with the tour called us up last fall because they were lining up dates in legendary sports facilities."