Tornado at Churchill Downs: 'Miracle No One Was Hurt'

Officials at Churchill Downs--home of the famed Kentucky Derby--confirmed June 23 that no horses or humans were injured the previous evening when a tornado ripped through a portion of the stable area at the historic Louisville, Ky. racetrack.

Video update on the tornado's effects from

"The miracle is that no one was hurt and we are very, very happy about that," track president Kevin Flanery said during a press briefing. "We have 1,500 people living on the backside, and last night they were struck with something that nobody wants to go through, and they handled it calmly and professionally. We are very, very lucky we are here today to just look at damage to some buildings. Buildings can be rebuilt."

John Asher, vice president of communications for the track, said nine barns have been ordered evacuated by fire department officials until their status can be evaluated. The 150-200 horses that were housed in those barns were relocated throughout the night after the tornado struck at about 8 p.m. EDT.

Many were taken to empty barns at other areas of the track, and some were relocated to nearby farms or training centers, though movement of traffic out of the track the evening of June 22 was limited due to storm damage.

There was no apparent damage to the track's iconic Twin Spires or to the clubhouse and grandstand areas, but the backstretch chapel sustained roof and steeple damage. The National Weather Service confirmed the morning of June 23 that an EF0 or EF1 tornado hit the Churchill Downs area.

Tornado Damage at Churchill Downs

Five barns were damaged and nine were ordered evacuated after a tornado touched down at Churchill Downs. No horses or humans were hurt.

Stable workers who resided in the damaged barns had to make other living arrangements, with 17 of them spending the night in the jockeys' room on the front side. Also, one area of the grandstand was set up to accommodate stable employees, with representatives from the Red Cross and Salvation Army on hand to provide assistance, Asher said.

Training, racing, and simulcasting were canceled for June 23, but Churchill Downs announced its live "Downs After Dark" racing program set for the evening of June 24 would be held as planned. Despite the damage to the stable area and the heavy rain that accompanied the storm, Flanery said there was no apparent damage to the main track and turf course, and that both would be available once racing resumed.

Crews are currently working to clean up debris that primarily consisted of roofing material ripped off the damaged barns. Large chunks of damaged roofs remain on some of the barns. Many roofs fell in but were supported from complete collapse by the hay lofts and concrete half walls that line the outsides of the barns.

Though there were tornado warnings issued for Louisville by the National Weather Service, they had all expired when the storm hit without much notice, Asher said.

"We have had great volunteer spirit," Asher said of the efforts by track and stable personnel to work to remove horses from the damaged barns. "Trainers will tell you it was a remarkable thing to see everyone pull together. Right now, we are still in damage assessment. As best we can tell, it is something that has never happened in the 137-year history of this racetrack."

About the Author

Ron Mitchell/The Horse

Ron Mitchell is Online Managing Editor for The Blood-Horse magazine. A Lexington native, Mitchell joined The Blood-Horse after serving in editorial capacities with The Thoroughbred Record and Thoroughbred Times, specializing in business and auction aspects of the industry, and was editor-in-chief of the award-winning Horsemen’s Journal. As online managing editor, Mitchell works closely with The Blood-Horse news editor and other departments to make sure the website content is the most thorough and accurate source for all Thoroughbred news, results, videos, and data.

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