Written by Jennie Rees | The Courier-Journal

Churchill Downs track president Kevin Flanery on Thursday morning estimated that the surprise tornado that tore through the barn area June 22 caused between $1 million and $1.5 million in damage to the 6 ½ barns deemed uninhabitable by city officials.

Flanery said it’s too early to determine how much will be picked up by insurance and how much might come out of pocket for the track. But he praised his staff and its contractors, including Hall Contracting and Luckett & Farley architects, as well as Churchill’s insurance company and city building-code officials for working together to have construction completed in fewer than three months.

There were no injuries to horses or humans attributable to the tornado, and the track missed only one day of racing.

Even as Flanery spoke at a press gathering by barn 23 -- one of the barns with the most extensive damage -- trainer Steve Margolis’ horses were back in their former stalls munching on hay as his employees moved equipment, furnishings and possessions back into the tack rooms.

The stables that had to vacate the barns started moving in a couple of days ago as Churchill beat its deadline of having the repairs completed by Sept. 15.

"Today is not about a ribbon-cutting or celebrating the buildings," Flanery said. "It’s celebrating the people you see today…. These things just don’t happen in this time frame unless you have special relationships with good people….

“Yes, we’re here to celebrate the fact that we hit a deadline that was arbitrarily set. When we met with the media right after the tornado, I said, ‘You know what, we’re going to be back up and running in time for the fall meet. We’re not going to have an impact on the Breeders’ Cup. We’re going to make it happen.’ I had nothing to base that statement on but my experience with these people."

Flanery also praised the horsemen, including those who pitched in to help get horses to safety and who helped make room elsewhere for the displaced animals.

"It’s not just the day of the tornado," Flanery said. "But when we’re in here repairing this facility, closing down roads, moving people around, all of the trainers on the backside pulled up their boots and said ‘What do you need me to do?’ and made it happen without complaining."

Margolis reflected on absorbing the extent of the damage the morning after the tornado. "To have it done by today, they did a great job," he said. "But looking at it when it first happened, it was hard to imagine they could put it all back together in this time."

Churchill’s fall meet opens Oct. 30, with the track playing host to the Breeders’ Cup for a record eighth time Nov. 4-5.

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