Rainy weather affects Derby day race-track preps

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by Gary Roedemeier

WHAS11.com

Posted on April 27, 2010 at 6:45 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 27 at 6:45 PM

LOUISVILLE (WHAS11) –Tuesday at Churchill Downs made you glad it wasn't Derby Day.

On the backside, a steady morning rain made it a day for puddle-jumping, and a day when most Derby horses stayed under cover.

There were a few horses and people, however, who braved the elements along with WHAS11’s Gary Roedemeier.

Tuesday morning was a morning to make you want to take it nice and easy.
 
Under hoof, the track looks slippery.
 
It was raining so hard, that even on Derby week, the viewing stand seemed to be a lonely place.
 
Some jockeys, though, told WHAS11 News that their horses like the sloppy conditions.
 
Terry Thompson rides Dublin. 
 
“He loves the mud,” Thompson said. “He gets out there and plays in it, so this didn’t bother him a bit. You just wanna get them out there and have a good morning of training and come back and cool out well.”
 
For most of the race fans huddled under umbrellas, it was anything but a good morning.
 
Two days of rain can mess up an entire week for a trainer pointing toward a big race.
 
Former trainer Hal Wiggins coached Rachel Alexandra up to last year's Oaks. He says rain can mean trouble.
 
Especially like a last breeze before the Oaks or Derby,” he said, “well then you want the track to be in good condition. Naturally, you don't want to take a chance on getting injured.”
 
These conditions are far from ideal for horses running on the track during the Kentucky Derby. But track supervisors say, they're prepared.
 
"When you use the track as much as we do we've got a surface now that we believe is the right amount of clay to hold the sand together," said track supervisor, Butch Lehr.
 
Supervisors say the key is keeping the track as uniform as possible... whether it's wet or dry.
 
"The biggest concern is a uniform surface,” said Lehr. “We have to deal with the rain obviously and the biggest thing for horses, they don't know what they're touching and the main focus is trying to have it uniform. It's sloppy and I want to have it be as uniform as possible."
 
To try and make sure the track is uniform, Churchill Downs has hired Mick Peterson, a University of Maine professor of mechanical engineering. Peterson independently monitors this track, to make sure it's as safe as possible for the horses.
 
"What you want to do is make the water drain to the inside rain so you keep the moisture consistent all the way across the track, so you're pumping it up to the surface and moving it into the inside rail," Peterson told WHAS11 News.
 
It takes a strong horse to survive the Derby trail, and the race itself, without injury, and D. Wayne Lukas thinks he has one.
Lukas has never been shy about touting his own horses at Churchill Downs. This year, he’s bringing Dublin to the Derby.
 
“He's got a long stride,” he said. “He's a stayer. I don't think he'll have a bit of trouble with the mile and a quarter. He's a big power horse that's got tactical speed. He fits all my parameters of a good one.”
 
Tomorrow, the field will be set with twenty good ones. They have won the races, dodged the injuries, and worked in the solitude of a rainy day on a muddy track.
 
On Tuesday, they stood three days away from the moment that is defined by roses.

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