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"Thunder" Kicks Off Kentucky Derby Festival

By Rick Howlett

An estimated 700,000 people lined the banks of the Ohio River Saturday night for the annual Thunder Over Louisville air and fireworks show.             

The fireworks display, touted as one of the largest in the world, was delayed nearly 20 minutes by a computer malfunction, but went off without any problems once the issue was resolved.       

Thunder Over Louisville is the official kickoff of the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival.

Festival activities continue Sunday with the grand re-opening of the Kentucky Derby Musuem, which has been undergoing a renovation since it was damaged by a flash flood last year.

(File photo courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival)

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Signups Closed For KDF Marathon, Mini-Marathon

By Stephanie Crosby

The Kentucky Derby Festival marathon and mini-marathon have more participants than ever, and registration is closed.

Derby Festival Mark Shallcross says about 2,800 people will participate in the marathon and more than 13,000 will take part in the mini. He says that’s a record number of entries, and they’ve closed registration for the increasingly popular event. He says fundraising for the rest of the Derby Festival is going well.

“We’re raising money right up until the last minute, so we’ve actually, considering the challenges of the economy, we’re in pretty good shape. It’ll be the same Thunder show, no cutbacks of any sort,” he said.

Shallcross says it’s hard to determine in the middle of the process, but officials think Pegasus pin sales are going well because a number of retailers have placed additional orders for the pins. Thunder Over Louisville, the festival kickoff, is set for April 17th.

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KDF Officials Prepare for "Thunder Fever"

by Stephanie Crosby

Kentucky Derby Festival officials announced this morning the theme for this year’s Thunder Over Louisville.

Earlier this year, festival leaders announced the theme for the festival itself is “Spring Fever Reliever” and the Thunder theme plays off that medical reference. “Thunder Fever” is set this year for April 17th.

UPS, Horseshoe Casino, E-ON U.S., and Meijer are the returning corporate sponsors for the free event. UPS spokesperson Mike Mangeot says even when companies are having to cut costs, Thunder is a good investment.

“It makes everybody happy too,” says Mangeot, “and win-wins like this are very important in these economically fragile times, when everyone’s sponsorship dollars are stretched so thin.”

Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO Mike Berry says while Thunder has been completely funded by its four returning corporate sponsors, the entire festival still has a little bit of fundraising to do.

“Sponsorship in general has been as challenging as it was last year,” says Berry. “The good news is, even with an entire month left to sell, we’re probably only five to seven percent from goal.”

Producer Wayne Hettinger says the soundtrack for the show is already in the hands of the fireworks designers for the April 17th show. It’s the annual kickoff to the Kentucky Derby Festival.

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KDF Changes Marathon Route, Participation Limit

Kentucky Derby Festival officials have changed this year’s marathon and mini-marathon

The marathon’s course has been changed so it no longer crosses over itself, which organizers say will clear up congestion. The course will also go through different streets in the Highlands. Festival President Mike Berry says the changes were made for runners, not neighborhood residents.

“They’re still going to be impacted by the races themselves,” he says. “But what we’re hoping is, for the runners themselves, is they will find the course more manageable and more easy to manipulate.”

The finish line for both courses has been moved to Waterfront Park. The total number of runners allowed will also be expanded, from 12 thousand to 15 thousand.

Berry says he’s not sure if that many runners will compete, but there was a waiting list last year.

“We really have no idea in knowing how many above 12,000,” he says. “What we do know is we can assure the participants that up to 15,000 can be accommodated with services, meaning supplies.”

The marathon and mini-marathon are April 24th.

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Pegasus Pins Are On Sale Today

The 2009 Kentucky Derby Festival Pegasus pins are now on sale.  Festival CEO Mike Berry says pin sales amount to about twenty-percent of the festival’s budget.
Berry says sponsorship sales have been slow this year, but he’s hoping strong attendance will help make up the difference.   
“There are ways to support the festival by drinking beer at the Chow Wagon,” says Berry, “by purchasing tickets to festival events, which went on sale last week.  So there are many ways to support the festival in addition to corporate sponsorship.”
Berry says no KDF events will be cancelled, but some may have to be scaled back if sponsors don’t come through.  He said they’re working to secure those sponsorships, but they’re still ‘about six-figures’ behind.
The Kentucky Derby Festival includes events like Thunder Over Louisville, the Pegasus Parade, and the marathon and mini-marathon.
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Thunder Fireworks, Airshow Budgets To Be Trimmed

Officials with the Kentucky Derby Festival have released some details about this year’s Thunder Over Louisville celebration. The official kickoff of the two-week festival draws about 750,000 people to the Ohio River banks for an airshow and fireworks display.

Festival President Mike Berry says the tough economic times have forced organizers to cut the pyrotechnics budget by about ten percent, but it won’t be evident to spectators.

“Where the fireworks are concerned, if you loved Thunder last year, you’ll love it again. It’s not going to diminish the show and it won’t fail to be the spectacle that it always has been,” Berry said.

Berry says the airshow budget will also be trimmed by about ten percent.

All four presenting corporate sponsors of last year’s Thunder, UPS, Horseshoe Casino and Hotel, E.ON U.S. and Meijer, are back on board this year.

Thunder Over Louisville will be held Saturday, April 18. This year’s theme is “Thunder Road.”