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No General Admission, Infield As 2020 Kentucky Derby Imposes Attendance Limits

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 is planning on allowing a limited number of spectators to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic the Kentucky Derby was quickly postponed to September 5. For the first time in 75 years, the ‘Run for the Roses’ wasn’t held on the first Saturday in May. That was in 1945 when the US government put a ban on horse racing due to World War II. Despite the pandemic forcing only the second postponement in the long history of the race when the announcement was made Churchill Downs’ brass expressed hope that fans would be able to attend the event. In late June, the state of Kentucky approved plans for the track to bring back a live crowd with capacity limitations. The original plan called for general admissions to be cut by 61% compared to 2019 which would have translated to roughly 24,000 fans in the infield.

Earlier today, Churchill Downs announced that live attendance will be reduced even more. Most significantly, there will be no general admission tickets sold and previously purchased ones will be refunded. The infield will be closed to spectators and ‘walking around’ the facility will not be permitted. The sum total of the changes means that the 2020 Kentucky Derby will be limited to 40% of total seating capacity. This will leave total attendance at 14% of total capacity from the 2015 attendance record. A record crowd of 170,513 witnessed American Pharoah’s win at the 141st Kentucky Derby in 2015. That means the live crowd at the 2020 Kentucky Derby will be less than 23,000.

A press released issued by Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning outlined further precautions:

Temperature checks, medical questionnaires, physical distancing and mandatory face coverings will be required upon entrance and movement within the 190-acre Churchill Downs. An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. Each guest will receive a courtesy “Healthy at the Track” bag, which will include a disposable mask, a pocket-sized hand sanitizer and a personal stylus for non-contact self-service wagering. 

Compliance of Churchill Downs’ public safety measures is a condition of admittance and will be strictly enforced. Offenders will receive a warning; repeat offenders will be escorted from the property.

Churchill Downs president Kevin Flanery expressed gratitude that a live audience of any size will be in attendance:

“The opportunity to safely welcome back a limited number of guests to Churchill Downs on the first week of September is a privilege that our team doesn’t take for grantedOur extensive plan meets or exceeds all recommended state and local guidelines. We’ve received an exceptional level of support from regulators, medical experts and public health authorities and we’ll continue to carefully work with them to ensure we’re doing everything we can to keep our customers, employees and communities safe.”

“We will have fewer guests at this year’s Derby as reducing the size of the crowd is an important step to ensuring a safe environment. Medical best practices and protocols – many of which we have applied in consultation with experts both inside and outside the sports industry – will be implemented, and we’ll make adjustments all the way up to Derby Day as we find ways to improve and continue to adhere to ever-evolving best practices.”

Kentucky has done a decent job mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic and especially in comparison to other Southern States. The current daily average of new cases per 100 thousand people is 11.5, well below the national average of 16.2 new cases daily per 100K people. Six of the seven states with the highest daily average of new cases–and thus the highest COVID-19 risk level–are in the Southeast.

NBC will provide TV coverage of the Kentucky Derby and undercard racing on September 5 from 2:30-7:30 PM Eastern. The 146th running of the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks for three year old fillies will take place on Friday, September 4 with NBCSN providing the TV coverage.

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