Monday, April 29, 2002

Udder Delight wins 4th Derby balloon race

Associated Press Writer

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — World-class balloonist Brian Beazly had a crew of 10, including his wife, cheering him on as he pitched a bag of Kentucky Bluegrass seed at the target — a giant, hot-pink “X” on the ground in southern Indiana.

        Beazly piloted the Bank One hot-air balloon in Saturday's 30th Annual Great Balloon Race. The race is a traditional event during the Kentucky Derby Festival, which leads up to next Saturday's Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.

        “I threw it too early,” said Beazly, 40, of Louisville, who was competing with 49 other balloons, including one piloted by his father — Sam Beazly.

        Brian Beazly, who has been piloting since he was 16 years old, owns a hot-air balloon company in Louisville. He has been piloting for Bank One for several years — with a win in 1995. For two years, Beazly competed for the U.S. in the World Championship balloon races, finishing in the top 10 both years.

        “I love flying in the races,” Beazly said after tossing the grass seed to the ground. “I just wish we could have gotten it (the seed) closer.”

        The balloon race follows the format of the traditional ballooning game of “Hare and Hound.” A balloon sponsored by Humana — the Louisville-based event sponsor — leads the race, acting as “the hare.” The Humana balloon eventually lands and sets up a target. The other balloons, acting as “hounds,” fly toward the target and drop a small bag of seed. The balloon that lands the seed closest to the target is the winner.

        Beazly's pitch came close, but not close enough. Mike Ehrler, who pilots the privately owned balloon Mike's Udder Delight, took the win on Saturday — landing his seed 3 feet and 8 inches from the target. This was Ehrler's fourth win in the Great Balloon Race and his first back-to-back win, according to Stacey Yates, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Derby Festival. Ehrler, 79, won the race last year.

        Tim Basey, who piloted Cingular Wireless's balloon, took second. Travis Vencel finished third in the Bloomington, Indiana balloon.

        The balloons began their journey at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center in Louisville, traveled across the Ohio River and landed in Georgetown, Ind. Each balloon traveled for about one hour with speeds of up to 30 mph.

        The weather conditions were exceptional at the 7 a.m. EST launch, according to Yates. Last year, strong winds delayed the launch.

        “We have to put safety first,” Yates said. By Saturday afternoon, rains had hit most of the city.

        Cheri White, of Houston, piloted the Touchstone Energy balloon.

        “I love this race,” said White, in her third year of competing in the race. “You get a great view of the city, lots of trees and hills.”

        Laura Beazly, Brian Beazly's wife, said the two met at a balloon race in Campbellsville, Ky., before marrying in a hot-air balloon.

        “Brian lives for the races,” she said. “He's very competitive and he's very good.”


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