Lightning flashed and thunder shook the windows of my Butchertown Airbnb apartment before sunrise Tuesday. Then the rain came, after training hours began but before the half-hour window from 7:30 to 8 a.m. designated for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks runners.
Todd Pletcher thought about sending Mo Donegal, Charge It and Pioneer Of Medina, his Derby horses; and Nest, Goddess Of Fire and Shahama, his Oaks horses, out early to beat the rain but opted to wait after watching the lightning. Brad Cox didn’t wait, sending Cyberknife, Tawny Port and Zozos out to gallop in the first set.
Things stayed dry for the designated Derby-Oaks training session, and for much of the rest of the morning. Then the first two races Tuesday were run without any rain, albeit on a sloppy track.
The rain and storms returned while the field for the third warmed up. The $20,000 claiming race wound up being run in sideways rain, into a headwind in the stretch that led to a more than seven-second final sixteenth for the winner.
At 1:49 some of Churchill’s monitors went yellow with black words instructing fans to “Please Seek Shelter and Follow Directions of Venue Staff.” An announcement just came in the Parlay Media Center for the small group of press on hand to stay inside, wait out the weather delay.
Just another Derby Week in Louisville.
Here’s hoping for an improved forecast the rest of the week. It didn’t look great this morning for Friday and Saturday. Louisville’s WHAS-11 extended forecast called for an 84 percent change of rain and thunderstorms for Friday’s Oaks Day card, while dropping to just 45 percent for Derby Day. Mostly clear after that. Naturally.
Here’s hoping for better luck than the stretch from 2007 to 2013, the longest stretch of consecutive wet Derby Days according to the National Weather Service. And who could forget 2004, when a monster thunderstorm late in the card almost washed away the track before Smarty Jones scampered to victory. But what about 2018, when 3.15 inches of rain fell at Churchill Downs.
Perhaps it should be expected, given that out of the 147 Derby Days, 69 experienced rain at some point in the day, a strike rate of almost 50 percent.
Regardless I’ll be ready. Old shoes and a dress and casual raincoat made the trip, again, from Saratoga. Lessons learned in 2018.