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Kentucky Derby 2020 To Be Run Without Fans

Ross Everett
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 has reversed course and will run the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks without fans.

The Kentucky Derby is traditionally run on the first Saturday in May but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it has been postponed to September 5. The initial plan was to run with a limited number of spectators. On August 12, that ‘limited number’ was reduced even more. On Friday, Churchill Downs made the announcement that many observers thought to be inevitable–that for the first time in history the Kentucky Derby will be run without fans in attendance.

Statewide, Kentucky has done a reasonably decent job in mitigating the coronavirus pandemic. They currently have 12.1 daily new cases per 100,000 people which below the national average of 14 and well below most other Southern states. Jefferson County–where Louisville is located–hasn’t done quite as well and is currently averaging 20 new cases per 100K population. Due the increase in cases, Jefferson County and the City of Louisville are in what is designated as a ‘red zone’ by the White House. According to a press release issued by Churchill Downs, Jefferson County has experienced more than 2,300 new cases of COVID-19 in the past week.

Here are the relevant paragraphs from the press release announcing the decision to run without fans:

The Kentucky Derby is a time-honored American tradition which has always been about bringing people together. However, the health and safety of our team, fans and participants is our highest concern. Churchill Downs has worked diligently over the last several months to plan a safe Derby with a limited number of spectators in attendance. We were confident in that plan, but dedicated to remaining flexible using the best and most reliable information available. With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to again revisit our planning. We have made the difficult decision to hold this year’s Kentucky Derby on September 5 without fans. Churchill Downs and all of our team members feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility as citizens of Louisville to do all we responsibly can to protect the health, safety and security of our community in these challenging times and believe that running the Derby without spectators is the best way to do that. We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our loyal fans.

The decision comes with the support of Governor Andy Beshear who said, “The virus is still aggressively spreading in Kentucky, and the White House has announced that Jefferson County and the City of Louisville are in a ‘red zone’ based on increases in cases. This week alone the county had more than 2,300 new cases,” Gov. Beshear said. “I applaud Churchill Downs for continuing to monitor the virus and for making the right and responsible decision. I am asking all Kentuckians to take action to stop the spread of the virus so we can get back to the many traditions we enjoy, like the Kentucky Derby.” 

Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated, was circumspect as he commented on the decision to run without fans:

“This year’s Kentucky Derby was never going to be the celebration we’re used to, but I could not be more grateful to our tremendous team members and community partners for all of their efforts. We’ve left no stones unturned and reached the right decision. We hope our fans, the Louisville community and our country find an opportunity over the coming weeks to reflect on the challenges we have faced this year as a community and as a nation, and work together toward a better and safer future.” 

Attendance will be limited to essential personnel for the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and throughout Derby week.

NBC will televise the Kentucky Derby and undercard racing on September 5 from 2:30-7:30 p.m. ET. The 146th running of the Kentucky Oaks will be televised Friday, September 4 on NBCSN from 3-6 p.m. ET. 

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