It was a wet morning at Churchill Downs.
Throughout the track, racegoers meandered around wearing ponchos, garbage bags, garment bags…anything that would protect their Oaks Day outfits from the steady rain.
Umbrellas aren’t allowed inside Churchill Downs for Oaks or Derby; near each entrance was an umbrella graveyard — piles of umbrellas abandoned as their owners went through the turnstiles.
Louisvillian Ashley Powers walked toward the track, a clear plastic rain poncho pulled up over her elaborate hat.
“I borrowed it [from a friend], and she asked me not to get it wet,” she said, laughing. “I left the house with a Kroger bag on my head. That happened.”
Powers and her friend, Marla McCloud, came prepared with four ponchos. One for each of them to wear to the track, and one for the walk back to the car afterward. McCloud ordered two dozen of the ponchos from Amazon yesterday in preparation.
“I was not going to go all over town, looking for ponchos,” she said.
In the infield, Joe Ward from Chicago, Steve Sunderland from Nashville and John Marshall from Los Angeles sat in a makeshift tent against the fence under the big screen showing the races. Their roof was a brown tarp.
“A brown leaking tarp, because he was too cheap to invest in a new one,” Ward cracked, gesturing toward Marshall, the tarp’s owner.
The men have been coming to Oaks for years, and estimate the tarp has come along for almost as long.
A few yards away, Kristine Pike is sitting with her friends with only a clear poncho to protect her from the rain. She got the poncho from a friend, after striking out at local stores.
“Every store in Louisville was out of ponchos last night,” she said. “Walmart, Walgreens, the Dollar Store, Kohl’s, anywhere in the mall didn’t have anything.”
For racegoers who didn’t plan ahead, there were a few places to buy ponchos near the track. Right outside the gates, a trailer advertised “Official Kentucky Derby Merchandise.” They have ponchos, too — the clear kind for $5, though they’re absent any derby branding.
A block away, Bre Shoemo is hawking tickets. He has ponchos, too, though his are $10.
“I keep ponchos with me for a situation with the weather like this, just to be able to accommodate customers,” he said. “Because a lot of people come by here, and you’d be surprised, they don’t bring anything with them.”
Shoemo is an event broker from Jacksonville, Florida who travels around the country to events like this one. He said he’s hoping to sell a few ponchos to offset the money he expects to lose from decreased ticket sales because of the weather.
“As you can tell, a lot of people haven’t come out today, so what my bread and butter is, I’m not really able to participate in that today,” he said.
On Burton Avenue, near Churchill Downs Gate 17, Steve Russell is parking cars in his yard. He has ponchos, too, though he said he didn’t buy them just to make a quick buck on Oaks.
“I’ve sold three so far, but everyone else is buying them before they get here, see,” he said.
Russell’s ponchos are only $3.
“If they need them, I sell them,” he said.
Back inside the track, people packed the general admission indoor areas, trying to stay slightly warmer and dryer. And while there was a noticeable lack of traffic near some of the drink stands — like those selling frozen margaritas — others seemed happy to use the chilly temperatures as an excuse to warm up with bourbon.