LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs is making a slight alteration to its morning training protocol to give preference to prospects for the 136th Kentucky Derby and Oaks while also hoping to utilize their new permanent lighting system during pre-dawn hours.
Starting Saturday, only Derby and Oaks horses will be allowed to train during a window of about 15 minutes when the track reopens for training after the regularly scheduled harrow break, which typically ends at about 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Trainers are being requested to have their horses wear their yellow Derby and pink Oaks saddletowels. Derby and Oaks horses are not required to train during the 8:30-8:45 window and may do so at any time of the morning.
Also, Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers said Thursday that the track is "in the process of trying to figure out" how to use the lights for training before dawn without them being overly bothersome for people in the neighborhood. Churchill had hoped to open the track 15 minutes earlier than normal, at 5:45 a.m., but it was still unclear Thursday morning whether that would happen. The lights were installed over the winter.
This is the first time Churchill has created these conditions for morning training. The changes will last through April 29, the Thursday morning before Oaks-Derby weekend. Shortened training hours of 6-8 a.m. will be in effect for Oaks and Derby mornings. Normal hours will resume after the Derby.
Churchill is initiating the changes to reduce the chances of a morning mishap involving an Oaks or Derby horse and to more easily showcase those horses for the large crowds that turn out to watch morning training.
One occurrence that may have helped prompt the changes was a gruesome accident during Derby Week last year, when a 2-year-old filly named Raspberry Kiss had to be euthanized after being struck by a loose horse running at full speed. Rachel Alexandra, the eventual Oaks winner, was on the racetrack at the time, preparing to breeze, but she went back to her barn until the track was cleared.