For many horse-racing fans and Louisville residents, nothing says spring like preparations at Churchill Downs to welcome back horses, their entourages and, in late April, fans for opening week and the Kentucky Derby.
The big news Sunday was that trainer Todd Pletcher's contenders were arriving at the track.
It feels more like Derby Season now that the #ToddSquad has arrived at @ChurchillDowns. Jeff Ruby Steaks runner-up Sainthood was among the first of his #KyDerby contenders on the grounds. pic.twitter.com/oYTDVGpGIr— Kevin Kerstein (@HorseRacingKK) April 11, 2021
Here are more views of the goings-on from the Twitterverse.
RT @theeck1: @KentuckyDerby 147 is coming! Things are busy @ChurchillDowns @WLKY pic.twitter.com/cr3QdvVHcu#sportdestinations #sportsbiz #sportsbusiness #sportstourismstrong #tourismstrong #postponedontcancel— Sports Destinations (@SDM_Overtime) April 8, 2021
?? Confirmados para el Derby de las Rosas...!!!
Los caballos HELIUM (50 puntos) y SOUP AND SANDWICH (40 puntos) llegaron a @ChurchillDowns y ambos han sido confirmados por su entrenador @markecasse para correr el próximo 01 de mayo el @KentuckyDerby pic.twitter.com/30I1DLkuMD— ALBERTO ETTEDGUI R. (@alett15) April 7, 2021
The big news on Monday was the arrival of undefeated champ Essential Quality.
?? Views from the backside. ?? pic.twitter.com/nTkafL5lkO— Churchill Downs (@ChurchillDowns) March 31, 2021
As of Monday afternoon, the following @KentuckyDerby and Oaks contenders are stabled on the grounds:
Derby: Mandaloun, Midnight Bourbon and O Besos
Oaks: Souper Sensational, Travel Column, Will's Secret pic.twitter.com/RhAiGXdmno— Kevin Kerstein (@HorseRacingKK) March 29, 2021
Kevin Kerstein, publicity manager for Churchill Downs, posted this video showing the changing of a sign to reflect Derby 2021.
Scott Eckhardt, videographer for WLKY-TV, posted a closer view:
The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association also got in on the act, posting these photos from March 16, when Churchill Downs welcomed the first horses of the season.
We're baaaacccckkkk! @NormCasse horses are first to arrive at @ChurchillDowns as backstretch opens for first time since Dec. 31. Thanks to @CoadyPhoto for these pics! #suresignofspring #bestcureforNCAATourneyblues pic.twitter.com/iAwKGUrQU0— KyHBPA (@KyHBPA) March 16, 2021
And here's a look at a horse taking to the track, posted by the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Horses are back on the track! Kentucky Derby Museum is the exclusive provider for tours of @ChurchillDowns. Come join us on an early morning tour to catch a morning workout! ??March 19, 2021
And in case you were wondering about this year's official mint julep glass …
Not too shabby. Sharper than some years, not as slick as others. Either way, I look forward to eventually ending up with 17 of 'em. pic.twitter.com/1w8DKpks26— Phil Kollin! (@DerbyCityPhil) March 18, 2021
Tuesday, March 16
It was 72 degrees and (kind of) sunny in Louisville Tuesday. But if you needed another sign that spring is around the corner, how about the arrival of the first horses at Churchill Downs?
Kevin Kerstein, the track's director of publicity, was as excited as any race fan, tweeting Tuesday morning:
The waiting is the hardest part. pic.twitter.com/lFAU4zal5n— Kevin Kerstein (@HorseRacingKK) March 16, 2021
He followed that up with a tease:
We are hours away from the first van coming through the Stable Gate @ChurchillDowns. For those inquiring minds, Greg Foley (@Foley_Racing) is annually the heavy favorite to arrive first. However, it appears we have an upset in the making this year from @NormCasse. Stay tuned...— Kevin Kerstein (@HorseRacingKK) March 15, 2021
Finally, the reveal:
"Those are the horses that aren't going to run back at the Fair Grounds, and I just felt like it would be best to get them out of there already and get them acclimated at Churchill," Casse said.
"To me, it's easier to stagger your exit and your arrival than doing it all at once. I have enough manpower to do that, so we're doing it that way."
The first van arrived just after 9 a.m. from New Orleans, Kerstein said in an email.
"A lot of horses annually start arriving after this weekend’s races at Fair Grounds, so I’d expect a number of horses to ship over the weekend and into early next week."
Training is scheduled to begin on Friday from 6 to 10 a.m. with one renovation break. On April 5, once more horses arrive, that schedule switches to 5:30 to 10 a.m. with two renovation breaks.
"We’re thrilled to welcome back all of the horses, their trainers and staff after the winter season," Kerstein said. "It’s a true sign that Derby is just around the corner once the backstretch opens."
Opening night for the Spring Meet is Saturday, April 24, and the Kentucky Derby is a week later, on May 1. The last day of the meet is June 26.
Casse could have been speaking for many when he said, "We're all excited to be back."