Churchill Downs on Friday abandoned its plan to hold the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby before a limited number of fans, saying it would run without live spectators because of a significant increase in coronavirus cases in and around Louisville.
In a statement, the company said that its plan to hold America’s most famous horse race before a scaled down crowd of more than 20,000 people was no longer feasible. Churchill Downs announced in the spring that it would move the Derby to Sept. 5 from its usual spot on the first Saturday in May in hopes of hosting a live crowd.
“We were confident in that plan, but dedicated to remaining flexible using the best and most reliable information available,” the statement said. “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.”
Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky agreed that it was the best decision.
“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. “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.”
Like all major sports leagues, thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown has been upended by the spread of the virus. In June, the series kicked off for the first time in history with the Belmont Stakes, which is traditionally the last leg of the Triple Crown.
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Here’s what’s happening as the world of sports slowly comes back to life:
- The Western & Southern Open tennis tournament — long held near Cincinnati — has been moved to Queens this year, making for an unusual doubleheader with the United States Open.
- The Mets had two games postponed after a player and a staff member tested positive for coronavirus.
- While live sports are back, spectators are not in most cases. Readers comment on what they were missing as fans in the stands.
It, too, was held without spectators, and a New York-bred colt named Tiz the Law won in a transcendent performance. The colt followed that victory with another dominating performance in the Travers Stakes earlier this month at a fanless Saratoga Race Course and is the likely favorite to win the Derby next month.
Besides the absence of fans, this year’s edition of the race will be missing some of the top jockeys in the nation. Jose Ortiz, his brother Irad Ortiz Jr. and Joel Rosario will remain in New York and finish the Saratoga meet.
Jockeys competing during Derby week are required to be in Kentucky by Aug. 31 for testing and safety protocols. New York racing officials has said that jockeys, trainers and backstretch employees traveling from outside the state would not be permitted to re-enter track grounds to participate in the current summer meet.
In March, Churchill Downs officials made the move to September after deciding that the Derby wouldn’t be the Derby without its 150,000-plus fans, sporting big hats and pocket squares and clutching mint juleps. At the time, Bill Carstanjen, Churchill Downs’s chief executive, said he was “fairly optimistic” that the race could be run in front of a scaled-down live audience, noting that the racetrack is 1 million square feet and offers a variety of seating options, from premium suites to picnic-like grounds in the infield.
Since then, the track has reviewed data from experts and consulted with public health authorities.
Jefferson County, where Louisville is, has had one of the highest rates of infection in the state in the past week, with 200 cases per 100,000 residents. There have been more than 1,500 cases in the last week in Jefferson County, and 11 deaths.
“This is a critical point in time for our community,” said a statement from Russell F. Cox, the chief executive of Norton Healthcare, a local health care system. “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.”