Security measures working at Kentucky Derby
By Dan Gelston
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Owen Van Winkle approached Gate 10 of Churchill Downs on Saturday he expected a wait only slightly shorter than it took to drive from Battle Creek, Mich.
"I couldn't believe how fast that went," said the 73-year-old thoroughbred racing fan. "We were hardly in line at all."
Despite the beefed-up security now present at every major sports event and venue, lines moved quickly and bag searches prompted few complaints among the thousands arriving for the Kentucky Derby.
"I've been in worse airports," said 30-year-old John Greiver of Atlanta.
Even track officials were proud of how little fuss the checkpoints were causing.
"We've created a model for how things should be done at all major sporting events," said Alex Waldrop, president of Churchill Downs.
The Derby wasn't granted the special federal security status given the Super Bowl and the Salt Lake City Olympics following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That meant local law enforcement officials had to develop their own plan.
After a test run at Friday's Kentucky Oaks, which drew nearly 102,000 fans, and included an increased presence of National Guardsmen, only minor security changes were needed for the Derby, including more magnetic wands.
"Everybody was very pleased," State Police Sgt. Ronnie Ray said. "We found we had plenty of folks here to do what we needed to do. They more or less told us to go through the same drill as yesterday."
Ray, who was supervising security at Gate 3, said the Derby crowd was "a little bit of a different crowd."
"Lots of people from all over the country," he said. "They may not have heard about the new security as much as the local folks who were here yesterday."
Some fans approached the checkpoints with their arms spread open, in anticipation of a search. Most were empty handed, leaving behind banned items like coolers, food containers and bottles.
Fans could bring in purses and clear plastic bags of food, and at a specific gate, folding chairs and blankets.
Steve and Marsha Lockon, of Toledo, Ohio, were camped out in the infield under a 10-foot tent near a fence where they could watch some races.
"The pain is not being able to bring in a red wagon," he said.