Military survivors enjoy a day at Churchill Downs

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Story by David Altom, Deputy Chief of Public Affairs, Kentucky National Guard

Borel at Survivors Day at Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel was among the many jockeys who greeted the military families who attended Survivors Day at Churchill Downs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard)

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 6, 2011) – It’s the eve of the 137th Kentucky Derby and Kentucky National Guard troops are already on the scene, preparing to help local civil authorities cope with record crowds and ensure a safe and exciting experience for all.

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A young Army survivor takes a virtual spin around the track at the Kentucky Derby Museum. The red flag with a gold star on his jacket denotes the loss of a loved one during time of war. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard)

Another event, a little less well-known perhaps, proved just as exciting to an exclusive audience.  The first ever Survivors Day at Churchill Downs, held last November, brought the families of fallen Soldiers behind the scenes of one of the most famous sporting events in the world.

“We have some great friends at Churchill Downs,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Mark Grant, coordinator for Survivors Outreach.  “They pulled out all the stops in making this a memorable event for our Army families.”

In addition to a special race in their honor, family members were treated to a visit on Millionaires Row and got to meet several well-known jockeys, including 2010 Derby winner Calvin Borel.

“That was a real treat,” said Grant.  “He was great with our families.”

Churchill Downs hospitality was just as special.  Each family was given “Downs Dollars” for food and drinks, as well as tickets to the Derby Museum and hats and souvenirs for the children.”

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Army families were given the VIP treatment during their visit to Churchill Downs. Grant says the organization's support for the military was phenomenal. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis Flora, Kentucky Air National Guard)

“I can’t say enough about what everyone did for us,” said Grant.  “Folks like Dana Johnson at community relations and Sherry Crose at the museum really came through for us.”

Timing is everything, as the saying goes.  “The Churchill Downs staff was worn out after hosting the Breeders’ Cup, but they didn’t hesitate to honor our fallen troops and their families,” said Grant.  “The survivors noticed this and they were all very grateful.  They’ll never forget their day at Churchill Downs.”

Grant said enthusiasm was growing for another event this year.

In the meantime, suspense mounts as everyone wonders who will win tomorrow’s big race.

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