Churchill Downs, City Seek Special Security Help for Derby

Churchill Downs and officials with the city of Louisville, Ky. have requested help from the federal government in dealing with security for the May 4 Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Pegasus Parade that is staged Derby week.

If approved, the Derby and related events from May 2-5 would have designation as a "National Security Special Event." Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, two sporting events--the upcoming Super Bowl in New Orleans and Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City--have been given the special security event status.

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the designation requires the U. S. Secret Service to oversee security for the parade, Oaks, and Derby, with help from the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The request to Tom Ridge, director of the U.S. Office of Homeland Security, Churchill Downs racetrack president Alex Waldrop and Louisville mayor Dave Armstrong cites the large crowds that include international visitors and dignitaries that attend the events as well as the worldwide television audience. The letter noted that the Pegasus parade on Thursday of Derby week annually draws nearly 100,000 people and more than 225,000 were on hand at Churchill Downs for the Friday and Saturday when the Oaks and Derby are run.

"It is impossible to predict at this point exactly where the fight against terrorism will be next May," the request to Ridge stated. "However, we believe that the number of people this event will draw, including the international visitors, former president, and other dignitaries justify the special status we are requesting."

While the Louisville and Jefferson County police departments, the Kentucky State Police, and the National Guard "put in countless hours to ensure we have a secure event," the letter said "in these uncertain times it is necessary to provide the maximum security that is available to protect the integrity of these events. With the lead time that we have, we are confident that our staffs, working in concert with your office, could develop a plan that minimizes the risk to the quarter of a million visitors to these three days of activities."

Churchill spokesman John Asher said the track has already sought advice from the FBI and Secret Service regarding security procedures for this year's Derby. Asher said those two agencies have worked with Churchill in the past on Derby security efforts, especially when a U. S. president or an ex-president attended the spring classic.

"It is safe to say that, whether the office of Homeland Security grants this special status or not, we will still be working with many federal, state and local agencies in our security efforts for Derby 128," Asher said. "They have been crucial partners in the past and we value their expertise and experience."