Security lines at Churchill Downs move quickly despite changes

lblackford@herald-leader.comMay 4, 2013 

— LOUISVILLE — Despite new, more stringent security at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, people moved quickly through the entrance gates with few complaints.

"Very smooth," said Kevin Kimble of Merrieville, Ind. "It was perfect; they were there but not there."

"They" were two sets of security guards at every gate; one set checked bags and the other set used handheld wands to scan everyone.

"I love it — more safety," said Lauren Peyton of Orange County, Calif.

The new security measures — purses no bigger than 12 inches, clear plastic bags for lunches, no coolers or pop-up tents — stem from the Boston Marathon bombing and last year's rough weather. At the 2012 Kentucky Oaks, the infield had to be evacuated because of tornado weather, and pop-up tents became a liability.

Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said that after the April 15 Boston attack, Churchill officials held a series of meetings with federal officials to formulate their plans.

"Security is an important issue for our customers," Rogers said.

There are always patrons who wish that Churchill would reverse its position on, say, bringing alcohol into the Downs. On the other hand, the stricter rules mean there are fewer things to search, thus making the lines go more quickly.

"You just hope people read all the do's and don'ts and they're not too inconvenienced," Rogers said.

Many attendees seemed to have paid attention, carrying clear plastic bags with lunches in clear plastic boxes. Churchill was selling coolers and ice for $5 in the infield.

People were allowed to bring tarpaulins into the infield, where they're usually used for picnic blankets. This time, however, intrepid Derby-goers tied them to whatever was available, including the track fence, to make impromptu tents.

A group from Michigan used a small tree and a fence, tied with plastic bags.

"We're creative — we're nurses," Missy Latter said. Her only complaint was the "no cooler" rule, because it's a lot easier to bring in supplies with a cooler on wheels. Plus, she said, Churchill ran out of coolers early in the afternoon.

"We did all this after 9/11," said Latter, who comes to the Derby every year. "That was massive security."

Like most sporting venues, Churchill did tighten its rules in 2001, but the rules were loosened again by 2009.

A Louisville police spokeswoman said that by mid-afternoon, there had been only one arrest for public drunkenness, and some citations for ticket-scalping.

Susan Stabene and her mother-in-law, Sue Stabene, came from Charleston, S.C., and Philadelphia, Pa., respectively, holding small purses under their rain ponchos. They said the wanding went quickly, and their purses were so small they needed only a quick glance.

"It's a great idea," Sue Stabene said of the security. "It would be nicer, though, if it were sunny."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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