Derby prep race, special silks add to Final Four hoopla

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2012 

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    Travel option opens up: Still looking for a way to get to New Orleans? Vision Airlines has some seats available on two charter flights from Louisville for $649 coach or $849 first-class. Call 1-877-359-2538. One charter will leave at 7:45 p.m. Friday; the second will leave at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Fans may return Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. or 3 p.m., first come, first served.

    Kentuckians snapping up seats: According to SeatGeek, an online ticket search engine, demand for Final Four tickets through the site is running 3-to-1 from Kentucky over other states, with about 30 percent of ticket requests coming from here. This is the first time in decades that two teams from one state have played in the Final Four. Ohio, by comparison, has only 8 percent of purchases even though it has Ohio State in the Final Four. From Sunday through Tuesday afternoon, ticket purchases from Louisville and Lexington were outstripping those from New York. Demand from Louisville actually is more than double that from Lexington, spokesman Will Flaherty said.

    Kentucky: 'There's only one': Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson taped a new "There's Only One" radio ad, according to Kentucky Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet, that adds the state's status as "the only one" with two teams in the Final Four.

    Move over trucks: Nobody wants to go up against the fan frenzy: The Kentucky Invitational Truck & Tractor Pull at Rupp Arena won't start Saturday until after the Kentucky-Louisville game ends, organizers announced Tuesday. But the Pit Party, open to the first 750 ticket-holders, will start at 5:30 p.m., and Rupp will air the basketball game live in its entirety for everyone to watch.

    Janet Patton

  • Fair Grounds Race Course

    Where: 1751 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans

    First post: 12:40 a.m. CDT Thu.-Sun.

    Admission: $5 grandstand, $10 clubhouse/beer garden

    March 30: Starlight Racing party starts at 5 p.m. CDT with live music; 18 races, with last post at 9:45 p.m.

One sure winner out of the Kentucky- Louisville matchup in the NCAA men's Final Four on Saturday will be Churchill Downs, which owns Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans.

In anticipation of the tournament's semifinal round, Fair Grounds decided eight months ago to push the annual Louisiana Derby, a major Kentucky Derby prep race, from Saturday to Sunday, to position it between the semifinals Saturday and the finals Monday.

"We saw an opportunity with all the sports fans in town, and going into the season we saw how good Kentucky was going to be," said Fair Grounds spokesman Jim Mulvihill. "This (with two Kentucky teams) is definitely the best-case scenario. It's almost beyond our wildest dreams."

The track is hoping that attendance Sunday might be double the typical 7,000 to 8,000 race-goers, so to handle thousands of extra Kentucky basketball and racing fans, Fair Grounds is bringing in extra bartenders, betting machines, pari-mutuel clerks, beer trailers and food. Fair Grounds is working to set up special shuttles to the track.

"We don't have any idea (how many to expect). It's an unprecedented situation," Mulvihill said. "Lots of these folks are passionate about horse racing and passionate about the Kentucky Derby, and they will see 14 horses that might make the race" on May 5 in Louisville.

Earlier this month for the SEC tournament, also in New Orleans, he said, Fair Grounds noticed an unusual number of fans wearing blue. "One of our bartenders said that Saturday was her busiest day of the season," he said.

On Tuesday, Fair Grounds told reporters who will be covering the Final Four that they also were welcome at the race; requests for media credentials began pouring in, Mulvihill said. That could result in a boom in coverage (although it won't be exactly free, once the track feeds the hungry press corps horde).

And there will be an extra draw for UK fans: Mission Impazible, who will be going for an unprecedented repeat win in the New Orleans Handicap on Sunday, will carry special UK silks, it was announced Sunday on the horse's Facebook page.

Normally, Mission Impazible races under lime green with a chocolate diamond.

But Kim Gullatt of Mission Impazible's Versailles-based Twin Creeks Racing Stables said UK approved the blue and white shirt for one-time use. The silks also say "Go Big Blue" and "2012 New Orleans On a Mission," with a cat's paw print.

"It's been a month in the making," Gullatt said Tuesday. "We had to get the OK before working on it, and everything's just fallen into place."

She said Mission Impazible's owners (big UK fans, obviously) are hoping supporters will turn out for the race Sunday, even if UK doesn't win Saturday evening.

"If they win, I think it will be huge," Gullatt said. "... We want it to be all blue and white."

UK fans can come to Fair Grounds on Friday for "Starlight Racing," when the silks will be on display, and take pictures with them.

The silks will be retired after the race and auctioned at the Race for Grace fund-raiser for Race Track Chaplaincy of America during Kentucky Derby Week in Louisville.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who will speak at the fund-raiser, is one of Mission Impazible's owners, Gullatt said.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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