Churchill Downs: "We're celebrating the fact that we're actually here" as races resume

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – A day after a tornado pummeled part of Churchill Downs, an important decision comes about its future:  Friday night racing, or Downs After Dark, will take place tonight.

Doors open at 4 p.m. today, and the first race is at 6 p.m. Final preparations have been put on 'round the clock ever since the weather calmed down, as Mother Nature left much of the area bruised and battered just less than two days ago.

It's been said a picture is worth a thousand words, and new pictures of the tornado and aerials of the destruction really put that in perspective.  But despite the destruction, the show must go on.

"It's the old adage: you fall off of a horse, you get back on it, and we're back tonight to do what we do best and that's race," said Churchill Downs spokesperson Darren Rogers.

On the backside, nearly half-a-dozen horse barns were destroyed, three others heavily damaged.

"The barn area is being put back in workable order," Rogers said.

But a permanent fix will take some time.  During the storm, the front of Churchill Downs and those iconic twin spires were spared from Mother Nature's wrath.

"Not even a blade of grass was bent," Rogers said.

Workers have been scouring every inch of Churchill Downs to make sure Friday's night racing won't end with any tragedies.

"They walked the racing surfaces they also used radar and magnets to get any of the shrapnel or debris from the storm damage that may have gone on to the race track, both the dirt and the turf course. Everything's been deemed okay," Rogers said.

Now, it's just getting people to head out and "pony up" for a god cause.  There's the option to round up the money you spend at the track tonight.

"Those funds will go directly to the back stretch worker relief fund for those horsemen that have been displaced and had some of their equipment damaged," Rogers said.

That's about 100 Churchill resident workers, none of which were injured.

"Tonight's Downs after Dark is taking on a whole new meaning: we're celebrating the fact that we're actually here," Rogers smiled.

As track officials have been digging through their archives and talking with National Weather Service, they've learned this isn't the first storm to whirl into Churchill Downs.

NWS records show an unusual winter tornado touched down around 7:20 in the morning on January 19, 1928.

The storm damaged homes on Longfield and Dresden Avenues near the track, before it crossed over into what's now the stable area of Churchill Downs.

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