06/23/2011 12:28PM

Churchill Downs: Track will race Friday night as clean-up efforts from tornado continue

Reed Palmer Photography
The barn of Jinks Fires was badly damaged in the tornado. Fires said it looked "like something took a bite out of it."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The morning after a tornado ripped through the Churchill Downs stable area, track employees and horsemen continued work to accommodate horses and workers displaced when more than six barns at the track were damaged.

By Midday Thursday, track officials announced that they would resume racing as scheduled Friday night and that there was no damage to the main facility at Churchill Downs.

Thursday racing was cancelled soon after the Wednesday storm, which hit at approximately 8 p.m. Track officials said Thursday morning that a meteorologist from the National Weather Service had confirmed that the damage at Churchill Downs was indeed caused by a tornado.

Although the damage done to the backstretch was considerable – with sections of roofs collapsed or simply blown off barns – remarkably no injuries to horses or people were reported, Churchill officials announced in a press conference Thursday morning.

Sue Margolis, wife of trainer Steve Margolis, whose barn was among the most badly damaged in the Wednesday night storm, said when she arrived at the scene, “I thought we were going to find bodies.”

Instead, she found a backstretch community that was quickly rounding up trapped horses from damaged barns, and moving them to available stalls found among undamaged barns.

Much work remains to be done to clear the way for a return to racing on Friday. The backstretch is littered with debris, and two receiving barns, that are currently housing approximately 50 of the estimated 150 displaced horses, will need to be cleared to allow for ship-in horses to have stalls in preparation for racing Friday night.

The main track was also closed for training Thursday, with some horsemen saying there were washouts from heavy rain that followed the tornado.

Many of the displaced horses are expected to go to other racetracks or training centers. Trainers Rusty Arnold and Carl Bowman have shipped horses to Keeneland; trainers Mike Lauer and Bret Calhoun will house some at Churchill Downs Trackside, an off-side training center owned by the track; Margolis could send some to Trackside or Keeneland; and trainers Dale Romans and Ian Wilkes are taking some horses to training centers they have just outside the Louisville area. Romans also said he also plans to send horses to New York.

Among the most badly damaged barns was that of trainer Jinks Fires. “It looks like something took a bite out of it,” he said.

The track is also working to accommodate backstretch workers that lived in tack rooms in the damaged barns. Seveteen backstretch workers were housed temporarily in the jockey’s quarters Wednesday night, and others double bunked with colleagues with rooms on the backstretch, track spokesman John Asher said.