Originally created 05/04/02

Increased security presence doesn't bother most Derby fans

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Peeking out amid the pastel outfits, wide-brimmed hats and pinstriped suits at Churchill Downs was the unmistakable olive green of military uniforms.

With national guardsmen and police weaving in and out of crowds of racing revelers, security was apparent at almost every turn on Friday, the eve of the Kentucky Derby.

Heightened security has become a fact of life at major sports events and venues since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and this world renowned thoroughbred track is no different.

About 100,000 fans arriving for the Kentucky Oaks, the feature race for fillies, submitted to bag searches, magnetic wand checks and found that a number of personal items were now banned, including pocket knives, umbrellas and coolers. Even bottles of sunscreen.

"The line went quicker," said 54-year-old Ron Meadows of Carrollton, Ky. "We didn't have as much to haul."

Fans were met by a force of 1,400 law enforcement officials, including FBI and Secret Service agents, and national guardsmen in black berets and camouflage outfits.

"We've had a lot of dress rehearsals, but this today will give us a chance to see how it all works," said Richard Knighten, one of about 20 federal marshals in the security detail.

Most fans cooperated.

"There was some bourbon in the binoculars," he said. "Actually it's been running much more smoothly than you would expect for an operation this size."

By late afternoon, police reported eight misdemeanor arrests and one felony - a drug possession charge.

Joellen Doherty, a 30-year-old fan from nearby Jeffersonville, Ind., said she was disappointed she couldn't bring a cooler with food and drinks.

"Half the people who usually come with us didn't want to come this year because of that," she said.

In addition to coolers, the banned list included most food containers, wagons and grills - even in the infield, where thousands traditionally set up their own picnic areas. Fans were allowed to bring in purses and clear plastic bags of food, and at a specific gate, folding chairs and blankets.

Just inside the turnstiles, Churchill Downs employees handed out sample-sized packets of sunscreen since bottles were confiscated.

The Kentucky 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. Such a designation would have meant federal money and even more security.

Still, Knighten said: "Every federal law enforcement agency you can think of is out here."

Doug Robinson, 46, of St. Louis, said his entry to the track went pretty smoothly.

"Its not any different than going through the airport," he said. "It's actually even smoother."


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