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.
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"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.