Seeing the pictures of the tornado damage at Churchill in no way prepared me for seeing the wreckage in person. The backstretch and the nearby neighborhood were studies in contrast: incredible destruction juxtaposed with pristine completeness.
The tornado apparently made its way down the backstretch like an unruly two-year-old, leaping and touching down unpredictably and powerfully. Darren Rogers, senior director of communications and media services at Churchill Downs, told me that it first hit at the beginning of the one-mile chute, moving relatively straightly down the backstretch. It was, according to Rogers, a narrow tornado, which limited the damage it inflicted. More than once I saw a barn in pieces next to one completely untouched. Click on photos enlarge.
On Saturday morning, Churchill’s vice president of communication, John Asher, talked on a local radio station about the storm and its aftermath, saying that much of the damage came from the wind rushing down the shedrows and lifting the roofs up. The problem, he joked, was that the roofs didn’t come back down in the right spot.
The neighborhood across from the backstretch looks remarkably unscathed, aside from the occasional downed tree. Rogers said that that appearance is deceiving, crediting those who had worked this week to get the streets and yards cleaned up, implying that it had been a real mess earlier in the week.
Spirits were high throughout the track: patrons, horsemen, and CD employees were still marveling at their good luck and appreciative of the many who had come out on Friday night for the first racing card since the storm.
I didn’t make it out there for the Friday night card, which I rather regret: an estimated crowd of about 25,000 reportedly enthusiastically partook of the food, drink, and music on offer.
Saturday at the races was gloriously sunny and warm, and on the track, a four-year-old half sister to Shackleford made her second start for trainer Dale Romans. After breaking her maiden for him earlier this month, Afleeting Lady finished second in an allowance race on Saturday. Sired by Afleet Alex, she’s owned and bred by Michael Lauffer and William Cubbedge, the same men who bred and own the Preakness winner; the filly made her first five starts for trainer Tom Albertrani.
In the featured Grade 3 Debutante Stakes for two-year-old fillies, Flashy Lassie took advantage of a hot early pace and won by a length. She was the longest shot on the board and paid $37.20.
More photos of the backstretch here.