With the COVID-19 pandemic yet to be brought under control, the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) will be contested behind closed doors, without fans, Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) announced Friday. The track had made lengthy efforts to try to accommodate even limited public participation, but the public health situation made it untenable.
CDI released the following statement regarding the decision:
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.
Governor Andy Beshear and Russell F. Cox, president and CEO of Norton Healthcare, both welcomed the decision considering the unchecked spread of COVID-19 in the region.
“The virus is still aggressively spreading in Kentucky,” Gov. Beshear said, “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.
“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.”
Timing is of vital importance since the positivity rate has spiked recently.
“This is a critical point in time for our community,” Cox noted. “This remains a very fluid situation and every event should be evaluated based on the data available as close to the date of the event as possible. We appreciate and support Churchill Downs’ decision.”
Only essential personnel and participants will be permitted on Churchill property throughout Derby week (Sept. 1-5). Refunds will be automatically issued to ticket holders for all Derby week race dates and related programming, including Dawn at the Downs.
NBCSN will broadcast the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks from 3-6 p.m., and NBC will cover the Derby Day action from 2:30-7:30 p.m. (all times ET).
“This year’s Kentucky Derby was never going to be the celebration we’re used to,” CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen said, “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.”