Barns back open at Churchill Downs months after tornado ripped through


by Bryan Baker

Posted on September 15, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 15 at 6:23 PM

Louisville, KY. (WHAS11) -- Six barns at Churchill Downs reopened, nearly three months after a tornado ripped through the track and left up to $1.5 million in damage.

A chapel also sustained $50,000 in damages and the storm even left some stable workers without a home.

"You could never, never believe in your wildest dreams no people or horses got hurt," said Assistant Trainer Dennis Geier.

An EF-1 tornado with wind speeds up to 105 MPH cut a winding path through the track on the night June 22. The barns were built in the 1940s.

Despite what track officials called "good insurance" to pay for the damage, trainers who are used to competing on the track helped each other that night, including Geier and others, who cleaned and led horses to other stables.

"It was amazing how everyone worked together ... the little family we are out here," he said.

Trainer William "Jinks" Fires, who ran Arch Arch Arch in this year's Kentucky Derby, keeps about 25-30 horses in Barn #40, the first hit by the tornado.

He said he brought some back today after working in the barn for the past three days.

But for those affected by the tornado outside Churchill Downs, progress is slow. Equipment Depot's building, on the corner of Floyd and Central nearby was destroyed.

"Day by day, (we are) slowly working on the building getting put together, working out of these trailers, half a shop," said Operations Manager Jeremy Smith.

Remarkably, Smith said business has remained steady. He expects to be back in the building in 6-10 months.