By Craig Hoffman
(LOUISVILLE, May 3rd, 2004, 6:30 p.m.) -- Despite the ongoing construction and heavy rains, Churchill Downs officials say Derby 130 was an overwhelming success and are already planning for next year when renovations will be finished. Meanwhile, the spring meet resumes Wednesday. WAVE 3's Craig Hoffman reports.
Derby 130 may be history, but construction at Churchill Downs is ongoing. Crews were hard at work Monday getting the track ready for the spring meet. "We will be ready for fans on Wednesday," said Churchill Downs Director of Publicity Tony Terry.
Two days earlier, over 140,000 people watched as Smarty Jones crossed the finish line first on a track made sloppy by a sudden cloudburst not long before post time.
Although the soggy weather didn't dampen the spirits of Derby fans, it did cause a few headaches. People are still talking about the heavy rains that hit a couple of hours before the big race. In the gift shop on the first floor clubhouse level, water poured from the ceiling and air conditioning ducts still under construction.
Toby Roush one of the coordinators of licensed gift items for Churchill Downs, said "people came in to get away from the rain -- kind of got caught in here as well -- but all in all it went well. We sold a good amount of merchandise."
By Wednesday, construction crews will be back at work on the $121 million expansion. Terry says there was no major damage due to the weather, but they are looking at all areas. "If the rain did blow in and got the drywall moist to the point where it cannot dry out and be in top shape, that will be replaced. But those are just minor things."
The infield swimming pond formed by the monsoon-like rains is gone now, replaced by thick mud. It's everywhere, and it will take weeks to restore the infield grounds, which is rarely used after the Derby.
As for the rain, it's part of the reason Dana and Grace Huberman will never forget Derby 130. The Boston couple was back at the track Monday taking one last picture before heading home. Grace says they were in a betting line Saturday when "it got very crowded, started flooding inside. Everyone kind of crunched in. Then it opened up for Derby."
Dana says there was a display of "great southern hospitality by everyone in line. Despite the rain, everybody had a good time."
Terry says everyone at the track had hoped for dry weather but admits they planned for rain. "We had a feeling that things would still go off, but yet plans that were enacted made everything go a little bit better. Is there going to be a critique with this year's Derby? Sure...in the end, the fans will have to decide just how well we did."
Terry says the track itself is in great shape and that everyone at Churchill Downs will be ready for the fans when the gates open again Wednesday.
Note: due to the construction, the seats in the first three floors of the clubhouse that were open for Derby will not be available to the public the rest of the spring meet.
Online Reporter: Craig Hoffman