Kentucky Derby changes course, will be held Sept. 5 without fans

Kentucky Derby changes course, will be held Sept. 5 without fans
The stands at Churchill Downs will be empty when the Kentucky Derby is held Sept. 5. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Run for the Roses will not have fans this year after all.

Churchill Downs announced Friday that fans will not be allowed at the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. That decision reverses an earlier decision in late June, when the track said fans would be allowed to attend the Triple Crown horse racing event.

“The Kentucky Derby is a time-honored American tradition which has always been about bringing people together,” Churchill Downs said in a news release. “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.”

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The race, originally scheduled for May 2, was moved to Sept. 5 with the hope that the coronavirus pandemic would have been curtailed over the summer. The Belmont Stakes, normally the final jewel in the Triple Crown races for 3-year-old horses, was held first this year, on June 20. The Preakness, normally the middle leg of the Triple Crown lineup, will be held Oct. 3 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

Favored Tiz the Law won the Belmont Stakes before empty stands.

On Aug. 12, Churchill Downs released a 62-page operations plan that limited attendance to less than 23,000 fans, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. That plan eliminated general admission tickets, limited reserved seating to 40% and closed the infield, the newspaper reported. Standing-room-only tickets also were scrapped.

In its statement, Churchill Downs said the health of fans, workers and jockeys was its “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,” the statement said. “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.”

Had fans been allowed, the crowd of 23,000 would have been about 13.5% of the record 170,513 that attended the Kentucky Derby in 2015, the Courier-Journal reported. It would be one of the largest crowds for a sporting event in the U.S. since sports began shutting down in March, second to a crowd of 30,000 fans that was allowed at a NASCAR race July 15 in Bristol, Tennessee, the newspaper reported.

Churchill Downs said its decision was supported by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

“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,” Beshear said in a statement. “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.”