An usually warm winter in Louisville means a familiar sight and fragrance will be missing from Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Week.

“The tulips aren’t going to make it this year,” Churchill Downs’ director of horticulture Matt Bizzell said Tuesday on the first “official” day of spring.

Typically, between 6,000 and 12,000 tulips – the spring-blooming perennial with glitzy flowers that come in a variety of colors – are showcased around Churchill Downs’ vast 147-acre facility on Kentucky Derby Week.

“Unfortunately with all of this usually warm weather, the tulips will be blooming about three weeks from now, which is about two weeks early,” Bizzell said. “Normally, they’re at their peak for Opening Night (scheduled for Saturday, April 28), and if the weather cooperates, they make it for another week to Derby Day. That’s not going to happen this year.

“Instead, we have 25,000 annuals that are growing in the Churchill Downs greenhouse (located adjacent to Gate 10 on the corner of Longfield and Wizard Avenue) right now. They’ll go in place of the tulips and in all of the flower beds. The warmth and the sun are speeding them along. If this weather continues, we should be able to put these in the ground a little earlier than usual for opening week and not have to worry about frost.

“On one hand, it makes our job a little easier because we don’t have to pull them out at the last minute and replace them for Oaks and Derby. But then again, I know I’m going to miss the look of those colorful tulips.”

There’s no need to worry about the official flower of the Kentucky Derby, however. Bizzell says the roses should look better than ever. “Traditionally, the roses usually peak after Derby but I’m hopeful they’re going to peak right at Derby, which will be a nice change,” Bizzell said.

Approximately 2,100 roses will dress the Kentucky Derby Winner’s Circle on Derby Day. Also, there are about 250 rose bushes scattered throughout the facility, which also features approximately 1,500 trees and shrubs.

National Weather Service forecasters projected Tuesday’s high temperature in Louisville would reach 86 degrees, which would break the 1894 record of 85. The date’s average high is 58.

“This was the eighth warmest winter in Louisville with several record-breaking high temperatures during the final two weeks of winter, averaging 25 to 30 degrees above normal,” said veteran meteorologist Kevin Harned of WAVE-3, Louisville’s NBC affiliate who has exclusive local coverage of the Kentucky Oaks race and the Kentucky Derby undercard. “We’ve had seven inches of measurable snowfall but really only one date – the night of March 4 into the morning of March 5 – with 3 ½ inches; the other 3 ½ inches was accumulated over a couple periods of dustings. By comparison, we had 17.4 inches through this date last year, which is a lot closer to the norm.”

“It’s been unbelievable,” said Bizzell, who has worked at Churchill Downs for 14 years. “I can’t remember a winter that was this warm. We sprayed for weeds the entire winter. Normally, it’s cold enough that we don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff during the winter. It’s been crazy and it’ll make for an interesting spring and summer as far as horticulture goes.”

The 138th running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) will be held in 46 days on Saturday, May 5. The average high temperature that day is 72 with an average low of 52.

Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 5, 2012, and its Spring Meet is scheduled for April 28-July 1. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at

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