Spectators headed to Churchill Downs this Saturday for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby will want to bring rain gear and jackets to go along with their extravagant hats.
Cloudy and unseasonably cool weather is forecast for Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky, and showers throughout the day will threaten to dampen pre-race activities.
The best chance for showers to occur will be during the late morning and early afternoon hours, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Thompson.
“While rain gear will be a good idea, [the race] does not look like a washout, and rainfall amounts should be not be all that heavy,” Thompson said. “By post time for the Derby at 6:34 p.m. [EDT], there's a good chance it will be dry and the sun may even break through by then.”
As a result, Thompson expects track conditions for the “Run for the Roses” to be listed as "good" or "fast."
Dry weather has won out the past three years for the Derby, allowing the horses to run on a fast track. The longest stretch of dry Derby Days is 12 from 1875-1886.
Temperatures will only be in the 50s most of the day, so patrons will want to bring jackets, Thompson added.
A normal high for Louisville on May 6 is 75 F.
“Winds will be out of the west-northwest at 10-20 mph on Saturday,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Mike Doll said. “Given the orientation of the track, the horses will have a bit of a head wind along the front stretch and a tail wind along the back stretch.”
While dry weather may win out in time for the Derby, Friday night’s running of the Kentucky Oaks, a race for three-year-old thoroughbred fillies, will not escape the rain. Post time is scheduled for 6:12 p.m. EDT.
Thanks to heavy rain that will arrive on Thursday and persist into Friday, Doll said track conditions will be sloppy for the Oaks.
“Temperatures on Friday will only get as high as the middle 50s during the afternoon, which is around 20 degrees Fahrenheit below average for the date,” Doll said.
When heavy rain is forecast, the Churchill Downs maintenance crew will pack down and compact the track’s surface, which is called “sealing” the track, Thompson explained. This allows water to run off and drain more easily, rather than sinking into the track. It also provides safer conditions for the horses.
However, based on the current forecast, Thompson said he doesn't think crews will seal the track on Saturday, although they might do so for the Oaks on Friday.
The Kentucky Derby is the longest continually held sporting event in America, with the first race taking place in 1875. Over the previous 142 races, rain has fallen on race day 66 times.