Balloons waiting for liftoff to chase the U.S. Bank hare balloon.
The U.S. Bank balloon takes to the sky.
Annie Maclean and her daughter, Caroline.
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – With one week left to Oaks and Derby, race ready fans set up shop at Bowman Field to witness a race through the sky.
Staff with the Kentucky Derby Festival teamed with U.S. Bank to host the Great Balloon Rush-Hour Race. Pilots operated 27 hot air balloons in the hare and hound style race in which balloonist - deemed "hounds" - pursued the U.S. Bank balloon designated the "hare."
"The U.S. Bank balloon takes off first, figures out a good landing area, and they put a big "X" on the ground," said U.S. Bank President David Wombwell. "Then everyone else flies over the "X" and tries to drop a bag and get as close as possible."
"The goal today is to go find that U.S. Bank balloon," said Charlie Hurst.
With 35 years of flying experience, Hurst piloted the Mortenson Family Dental hot air balloon during the race, which drew spectators of all ages.
"It's the first thing we've done for Derby week this year," said Annie Maclean. "We're really excited."
Maclean and her 20-month-old daughter Caroline joined a crowd of dozens in the cold for the race which lifted off around 7:30 a.m. Wombwell credits Friday's turnout to the accessibility of the event.
"The Derby's a big event of course. It's hard for some people to go. The parade is hard to see, but everybody can come out on the field," said Wombwell.
The balloon festivities will continue Friday night with the Great Balloon Glow at the Kentucky Exposition Center. Gates are scheduled to open at 6 p.m. The event is set to begin at 9 p.m. Parking is $8.