Some Derby contenders take to the sky for trip to Churchill Down - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Some Derby contenders take to the sky for trip to Churchill Downs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Some of the horses on the track at Churchill Downs on Derby Day must travel thousands of miles to get to Louisville for the race, and that means riding on a jet plane for most of the journey.

Dozens of planes criss-cross the sky over Louisville International Airport every day. From a distance, they all look much the same. But some are carrying precious Derby cargo.

Rather than crisp uniforms, the flight crew sports jeans and baseball caps. Instead of stretch limousines, trailers are waiting on the tarmac.

Soon the hum of the plane will be replaced by the roar of the crowd.

"I think it's pretty cool," said Stephen Gravett. "We get to haul the best horses in the world all over the country."

Gravett is in charge of the crew that's in charge of the horses.

After the plane lands, the horses are escorted down the ramp, one by one -- some feeling a little wobbly after the three-hour flight.

Gravett says most of the horses have done this before.

"Leading up to Derby you get a lot of the same ones going all over the country so they just think they're on a truck, they don't know the difference," Gravett said.

Four of the 12 horses that landed in Louisville were expected to race Saturday, including Dortmund.

Gravett says he wanted to make sure he had a smooth ride.

He says he's betting money on the chestnut thoroughbred.

"I put him with his friend back there," Gravett said. "He rode as good as good the whole way."

Buddy Fife waits on the tarmac to make sure everything goes smoothly. He has overseen the process hundreds of times for Tex Sutton. He says the company has transported all the recent Derby winners.

But don't expect to see any first class accommodations.

"There's nothing more special you can do to them," Fife said. "They just get loaded on there, locked in, we hang their hay rack and usually after awhile they hang their head and more or less sleep.

Tickets to get a stall on the flight aren't cheap.

A one-way trip from California to Louisville costs $5,000.

And like any unruly human passengers, horses can get ticked off too.

"They usually tip their hat kinda early if they're not gonna behave,"Gravett said. "We'll just get 'em off the plane. They've earned themselves a van ride."

It only takes about 45 minutes for the crew to back the horses up into the trailer and lock them in place for the short trip to Churchill Downs.

The planes will return to Louisville a few days after Derby, likely to pick up the Derby winner for a flight to the Preakness.

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