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Churchill Downs Plans On Allowing A Limited Number Of Spectators For Kentucky Derby

James Murphy
by in Horses on
  • The Kentucky Derby is traditionally run on the first Saturday in May.
  • The 2020 Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled to September 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Churchill Downs is planning on allowing a limited number of spectators to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

As most sports continue without spectators in attendance amid the coronavirus pandemic there are a few signs of a light at the end of the tunnel. One such positive sign is the announcement by Churchill Downs that a limited number of spectators will be allowed at the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

The iconic Louisville racetrack submitted a proposal to Kentucky state officials to allow fans in attendance at the September 5 race card headlined by the Kentucky Derby and the September 4 card headlined by the Kentucky Oaks. The plan was approved by Governor Andy Beshear and state health officials though many of the specifics are pending due to the unknown progress of the pandemic.

In announcing the approval, Governor Beshear commented:

“Churchill Downs submitted a comprehensive plan to state government that ensures that the Kentucky Derby will look very different this year, (but the changes) will help to protect the health and safety of every Kentuckian, which is my main priority.”

Although specific numbers are still pending, general admissions will be cut by 61% compared to 2019 which would translate to approximately 24,000 fans in the infield. Outdoor seating will be reduced by 57% and dining areas will be cut to 33% capacity.

Churchill Downs President Kevin Flannery stressed the importance of ‘moving forward’:

“We’ve got two months until the Kentucky Derby this year. It’s been a very difficult time for everybody around the world. … We know a lot of people have been in a lot of hurt during this crisis, and our hearts go out to them. But we also know that we have to take baby steps as a community to move forward and do something that lifts the spirits of this town.”

“… We’ve tried to be nimble, and we will continue to be nimble. We will adjust to the facts as they are in the moment, but we have to make plans (for) … how do we bring people to the track safe and effectively.”

While many states have experienced a disturbing spike in positive COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks Kentucky’s numbers have remained steady. In the latest report (June 25) the state reported 242 new cases. The numbers have vacillated between 200 and 300 new cases per day since the first of June. If the goal of the coronavirus mitigation efforts has been to ‘flatten the curve’ it’s hard to suggest that Kentucky has failed in that effort:

New coronavirus deaths in Kentucky have also stabilized based on the data. Since the first of June, there has been only one day with more than 10 new deaths reported:

Although the track has admitted a need to be ‘nimble’ in adjusting protocols based on external circumstances several precautions are known. At this point, patrons will be ‘encouraged’ to wear masks but not required. Employees will wear masks based on the protocols in Kentucky on race day. Currently, masks aren’t required but ‘heavily encouraged’. In addition, patrons will be encouraged to use the Churchill Downs mobile betting app to further minimize the need for interaction with customers and mutuel tellers. In addition, the barn area will be restricted to essential employees and credentials for employees, media and guests will be severely curtailed.

The 2019 Kentucky Derby drew a record $160 million in betting handle with the full card bringing in a record $244.1 million. The current Kentucky Derby betting favorite is Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law.

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