LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Next month’s Kentucky Derby will run without fans at Churchill Downs. The historic track citied rises in COVID-19 cases in the Louisville area.
It will mark the second Triple Crown race this year without spectators, following the Belmont Stakes in June. The Derby and Kentucky Oaks for fillies were postponed from May 1-2 to Sept. 4-5 because of the coronavirus.
Churchill Downs recently announced an attendance limit of 23,000 for the 146th Derby as part of a 62-page health and safety plan for horse racing’s marquee event.
“We were confident in that plan, but dedicated to remaining flexible using the best and most reliable information available,” the track said in a statement. “With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to revisit our planning.
“We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our loyal fans.”
The track will refund ticket holders for all Derby-week race dates.
Churchill Downs said its decision comes with support from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who said the virus continues to spread in the state. He also cited a White House announcement that Louisville and surrounding Jefferson County are in a “red zone.”
Beshear added that the county had 2,300 new cases this week alone and applauded Churchill Downs for monitoring the virus and “making the right and responsible decision.”
Churchill Downs did not allow spectators for its delayed spring meet, which included the Derby’s postponement from the first Saturday in May for the first time since 1945. The switch also shifted the Derby to the middle jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, with the Preakness following on Oct. 3 in Baltimore.
The track this summer had announced limiting general admission to the 26-acre infield for the Derby before eliminating that and standing room only with updated guidelines. Churchill Downs had based its attendance limit on 14% of the 2015 record of 170,513, with reserved seating limited to 40% occupancy.
Now, the Derby and Oaks will go off without anyone beneath the Twin Spires.