On Tuesday, tractors were out on the racetrack leveling the track and the huge crane was set up to change the signage from the 137th Kentucky Derby to 138th Kentucky Derby.
The changing of the signage is a Derby tradition and the warm weather gave the perfect weather to do it.
“With the first day of spring, we thought it was the perfect time to change the signage reflecting the 2012 Kentucky Derby,” said Churchill Downs Communications Director Darren Rogers.
Tuesday’s high reached into the mid-80s, not the usual first day of spring. “With this beautiful warm weather we’re having, it feels like the first day of summer,” Rogers said.
Matt Bizzell, the horticulture director of Churchill Downs, said he’s never seen weather like this ever in 14 years working at the tracks and that will bring changes to the Derby. “The tulips will not make it this year due to the warm weather we’re having. They would normally start blooming about the first day of the opening of the meet and hopefully make it until Derby, but this year with the warm weather they’re going to bloom in about three weeks,” Bizzell said.
Typically, between 6,000 and 12,000 tulips are showcased around Churchill Downs’ 147-acre facility during Kentucky Derby week.
“On one hand, it makes our job a little easier because we don’t have to pull them out at the last minute and replace them for Oaks and Derby. But then again, I know I’m going to miss the look of those colorful tulips,” Bizzell said.
Bizzell has 25,000 annuals in the greenhouse to take the tulips’ places. As for the roses, he said those will be fine. “Those will be in full bloom for Derby. The warm weather helps us on those,” Bizzell said.
Even in Lexington, Keeneland Race Course’s are affected. Keeneland has its forsythia and cherry trees blooming now. Their brilliant yellow and snowy white blossoms will be gone by the opening of the spring meet on April 6, said Keeneland’s Amy Gregory. But she said the landscaping crew told her the track’s crabapple, dogwood and pear trees will be in bloom for the races.