Champions Day a big hit with fans at Churchill Downs

Champions Day at Churchill Downs is new this Derby Week. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Champions Day at Churchill Downs is new this Derby Week. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Updated: May. 1, 2018 at 7:00 PM EDT
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Fans lined up to get their horse racing memorabilia signed by famous jockeys. (Source: WAVE 3...
Fans lined up to get their horse racing memorabilia signed by famous jockeys. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Plenty of racing fans headed to Churchill Downs on Tuesday to take in the horses on a beautiful day at the track.

Those fans also got quite a treat while they were there, as some of the greats in the game were on hand for something new Churchill Downs has put together for Derby Week.

Champions Day gives fans a chance to get up close and personal with some of the best in the sport. As excited as thousands of fans were to see horses back in action, many of them left the stands to wait in a hot, long line on the plaza.

>> Check out the WAVE 3 News Digital Derby Guide

"It's a good idea, I like it," race fan Jerry Richardson said.

Agreed Jane Leer of Indianapolis: "I'm excited and I'll stand out here all day!"

The payoff? A meet and greet with some of the sport's legends including Triple Crown winning jockeys like Jean Cruguet and Steve Cauthen.

Fan Steve Dattilo was there to see Cauthen.

"He's the only one I ain't got an autograph from," he said.

Cauthen couldn't believe how many fans were waiting to meet them.

"Derby Fever is starting to catch," he smiled. "This is the time of year."

For some autograph seekers, it was about getting the greats together.

"I want to get that poster so I can get all of them on one signing," Nancy Mulkins said.

Others brought their classic Nick Zito bobbleheads for the Derby winning trainer to sign. Zito remembered the bobblehead with a NYFD hat.

"Churchill Downs was nice enough to let me wear that fire hat after 9/11," he explained.

Zito joked he had one of them left at home.

Hall of Famers Carl Nafzger, Pat Day and Wayne Lukas signed hundreds of posters.

Lukas' Derby contender, Bravazo, got post position 13 hours earlier in the pill pull.

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"The 13 hole is excellent, absolutely super, I like where I'm at," he said. "I wanted 14 or 15 but 13 is pretty good."

Lukas cut up with fans about the heat.

"When I pass out, I hope the paramedics are in the area," he laughed.

Added Hall of Fame Jockey Sandy Hawley: "It's a little bit warm but, there's a nice little breeze and I've got a crew back here kind of shading me every once in a while, I was at the barber and he cut a hole in my hair right in the back."

Fan favorite jockey Pat Day was also there.

"They give us an opportunity to have a little lunch and share some old stories -- some of which I didn't remember real clearly, but it was good just the same and now an opportunity to interact with the fans and do a little autograph session," Day said.

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