Saturday, May 04, 2002

Security measures working at Kentucky Derby

Associated Press Writer

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Owen Van Winkle approached Gate 10 of Churchill Downs on Saturday afternoon, he expected to wait on a line for only a slightly shorter length of time than it took him to drive from Michigan.

        But Van Winkle was on his way in to his first Kentucky Derby just minutes after arriving at a security checkpoint.

        For the first Kentucky Derby since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, track and law enforcement officials banned a number of items fans are accustomed to bringing, nearly doubled the police force at the track and screened patrons with metal-detecting wands.

        “I couldn't believe how fast that went,” said Van Winkle, 73, of Battle Creek, Mich. “We were hardly in line at all.”

        The new security measures created some uncertainties for fans, law enforcement and track officials.

        But on Saturday fans quickly filtered through the security checkpoints. Only when buses dropped off loads of fans was the wait longer than about 10 minutes.

        “We've created a model for how things should be done at all major sporting events,” said Alex Waldrop, president of Churchill Downs.

        Increased security has been a part of all major sports events and venues since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Derby was not granted the same special federal status given the Super Bowl and the Salt Lake City Olympics, which were designated National Security Special Events, so local law enforcement officials had to develop their own plan.

        On a solemn note, New York City firefighters were honored before the eighth race, and “Taps” was played in a tribute to those who died on Sept. 11.

        Saturday's attendance was 145,033, the fifth-largest in Derby history but the first time since 1998 that the crowd dipped below 151,000.

        After a test run at the Kentucky Oaks, the feature race for fillies that drew nearly 102,000 fans on Friday, law enforcement officials made minor changes in the security plan designed for horse racing's biggest weekend.

        More magnetic wands, a shifting of officers to more congested areas and a change to allow small pocket knives were part of the adjustments made from Friday.

        Additional screening personnel with wands were added at one gate after backups on Friday, said Helene Kramer, a spokeswoman for Louisville police. Law enforcement officials were also redeployed to cover areas of overcrowding.

        Lines at track entrances moved quickly at Saturday as fans seemed unfazed by the security measures.

        “I've been in worse airports,” said John Greiver, 30, of Atlanta.

        Law enforcement officials from local, state and federal agencies met Saturday morning to discuss the results of Friday's plan for the Oaks.

        “Everybody was very pleased,” said Kentucky State Police Sgt. Ronnie Ray. “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 he expected some differences Saturday.

        “It's 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.”

        City and county police reported 11 arrests through the end of the Derby.

        Some fans approached the checkpoints with their arms spread open in anticipation of the search. Most were empty-handed, leaving behind their 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 part of the day's races.

        “The pain is not being able to bring in a red wagon,” he said.

        The Lockons, like the majority of infield fans, bought their food at two temporary infield food marts, a Derby weekend first.

        Coolers, ice and bottled water were the weekend's biggest sellers, said Mike Rodgers, vice president of sales for the Thornton's store chain that operated the marts. There was little chance of running out of supplies. — the food mart brought 2 1/2 million pounds of ice and 150,000 bottles of water.

        Final sales totals were not immediately available.

        With 100 employees and 15 registers in each tent, every line was an express checkout. The wait was slightly longer across the street for $7 mint juleps.

        Not all fans liked the security changes.

        “It's a little extreme,” said Lee Hyman, 31, of St. Louis. “Not being able to bring in sunscreen or bottled water to the infield seems silly. It's $40 to come to the infield, and they don't even give you a bottle of water when you're coming in.”

        Frivolity still ruled in the infield even as National Guardsmen, in their unmistakable camouflage uniforms, scanned the crowd from atop betting booths.

        “It's bad that it's come to this, but we're doing the best with it,” said Sgt. Bruce Olin of the Kentucky State Police.


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