Churchill Downs has tightened security for the Kentucky Derby following the Boston Marathon bombings and is asking spectators to be observant of their surroundings during next month’s races.
The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are expected to draw close to 250,000 fans on May 3-4. The Derby will be the nation’s largest sports event since the marathon.
Churchill Downs announced security policies for the Derby and Oaks on April 12. But after meeting with law enforcement officials following Monday’s blasts that killed three people and injured more than 170, the track strengthened its procedures.
Coolers, cans, fireworks and camcorders are among the items banned from the infield. Fans will also be subjected to an electronic wand search and are encouraged to watch for unusual and suspicious behavior.
“These are not wholesale changes, but these would not have happened without the events that happened” at the Boston Marathon, Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher said Thursday.
Even after this year’s security guidelines were announced last weekend, Asher added that Churchill Downs management remained in contact with local, state and federal officials on how to make the Run for the Roses safer for spectators. Monday’s events obviously led to an immediate review of procedures resulting in the reinstatement of items such as coolers to the banned list after removing them in 2009.
Asher believes fans will be able to enter and leave the track quicker without having coolers searched, and he said Churchill Downs will sell Styrofoam coolers and ice in the infield at prices comparable to outside the premises. Besides camcorders, tripods and video equipment are prohibited along with cameras with detachable lenses or those with lenses longer than six inches.
Fireworks, laser lights/pointers and mace and pepper spray are also forbidden, as are noisemakers and air horns.
Beyond those procedures, the track wants fans to be more observant of unusual behavior during the Derby. Of course, weird things have been known to occur at a signature event where mint juleps affect the colorfully-dressed crowd in different ways.
Asher said the new restrictions refer to behavior outside the norm and echo the oft-used term “If You See Something, Say Something.”
“We don’t want fans looking over shoulders,” he said, “but if they see something suspicious, they should notify personnel at the track. ... We’re just hoping that fans are more aware of their surroundings.”
As for security personnel, Asher couldn’t specify how many would be on hand but said a large force will be in place around the 147-acre facility. Fans entering all admission gates are subject to the electronic wand, as are employees, vendors and media entering the track. Vehicles entering the infield will also be inspected.
Asher stresses the changes simply bolster those made after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and other incidents that have raised awareness of fan security. But he doesn’t expect them to take away from the experience of attending one of sport’s oldest and most traditional events.
“We’re just hoping that fans can have safe weekend along with a good weekend at the Derby,” Asher said.