09/15/2011 11:16AM

Churchill Downs completes reconstruction of tornado-damaged barns

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Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Horses trained by Steve Margolis settle in at the recently rebuilt Barn 23 at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Churchill Downs hosted a media conference Thursday morning in the stable area to commemorate the reconstruction of the barns that were damaged in the June 22 tornado that tore through parts of Louisville, citing the efforts of numerous individuals and agencies in a rebuilding process that took less than three months and may wind up costing as much as $1.5 million.

Churchill will begin its fall meet Oct. 30, with the Breeders’ Cup set for Nov. 4-5.

“I remember saying after the tornado hit, ‘This is not going to have any impact on the fall meet or the Breeders’ Cup,’ ” Churchill president Kevin Flanery recalled for those assembled. “I had nothing to base that on – except for my experience with these people.”

The tornado inflicted the most damage on seven barns and on the track chapel. No injuries to humans or horses were incurred. The most heavily damaged was Barn 23, which housed the horses trained by Steve Margolis, who has since returned to the rebuilt barn.

Flanery said total costs for the rebuilding are not yet final while estimating the damage at between $1 million and $1.5 million, with the vast majority of it covered by insurance. The rebuilt barns look much the same as they did before, albeit newer, with white exteriors and green roofs. Most of those damaged are situated on the track’s Longfield Avenue perimeter, although two nearer the racetrack also were hit by fierce winds that reached more than 100 mph and, as track spokesman John Asher said, “jumped barn to barn.”

Asher said “an incredible team effort accomplished in a very short window” has rendered moot the possibility of disrupting preparations for the Breeders’ Cup. Churchill is open for training for much of the year, even when not hosting a race meet, and a number of stables recently began returning from summer destinations, most notably Saratoga.

Among the Churchill employees singled out by Churchill executives for their heroism on the night of the tornado and for their tireless efforts afterward were stall superintendent Steve Hargrave, track superintendent Butch Lehr, and Bill Vest, head of backstretch security.