No mint juleps
Following in the footsteps of most major sporting events, Churchill Downs has decided to hold the Kentucky Derby without fans in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. In March, when the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic was finally becoming realized in the United States, the Kentucky Derby was moved from May 2 to September 5 in hopes that the virus threat would have gone away. That clearly hasn’t happened.
When the race was originally moved, the plan was to have fans in attendance, but at a fraction of capacity. Just 23,000 fans were going to be permitted into the facility; a number calculated by taking 14% of the 2015 attendance record of 170,513 people (the numbers don’t work out to exactly 23,000, but it’s close).
The Kentucky Derby is scheduled every year for the first Saturday in May. This is the first time since 1945 – when horse races were paused because of World War II – that the race has not been run on its traditional date.
COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect sports
Churchill Downs said that it was always confident in its plan to hold the Kentucky Derby on September 5 with a limited number of fans, but, “With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to again revisit our planning.”
On Friday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear 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.
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.
Churchill Downs noted that medical experts at Norton Healthcare provided data to help the company with its consultation with public health officials. One warning sign that the COVID-19 pandemic has been getting worse in the Louisville area is that out of 70,000 virus tests at Norton, the positivity rate is now 10%, a massive jump from 2% in June.
“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,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs. “We’ve left no stones unturned and reached the right decision.”
It’s Tiz the Law’s race to lose
The final horse lineup is yet to be determined for September’s race. The Kentucky Derby field is capped at 20 horses, each of whom must qualify by earning points for a top-four finish in certain races in the year leading up to the event. And though the top 20 is locked in at this point, it is up to the horses’ owners as to whether or not they run. Tiz the Law – who nearly doubled the number of points of the second place qualifier – is such a strong favorite that some owners might not want to bother competing this year.