That quashed a detailed plan, released earlier this month, in which there could have been 14 percent capacity viewing a race run since 1875, traditionally in front of 150,000 or more.
“Churchill Downs has worked diligently over the last several months to plan a safe Derby with a limited number of spectators in attendance,” the organization’s statement read. “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.”
Tucked into that statement was a statement of support from Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who said: “The virus is still aggressively spreading in Kentucky, and the White House has announced that Jefferson County and the city of Louisville are 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.”
The Derby already had become an oddity with its quirky position on the calendar following a rescheduling from its customary first Saturday in May. Not only will it go second instead of its usual first in the Triple Crown procession after the Belmont Stakes ran without spectators June 20, but it also will go after the annual big summer race at Saratoga, the Travers Stakes, which was held Aug. 8.
Tiz the Law won the Belmont and the Travers to cement himself as the foremost story for the first week of September. If he were to win the Kentucky Derby 11 weeks after the Belmont, he would try for the strangest Triple Crown to date at the Preakness Stakes, which was rescheduled for Oct. 3 at Pimlico.
In hoping and planning for the best, Churchill Downs announced in late June that it would allow a limited number of ticket holders “under strict guidelines.” It later released those guidelines as it said it expected fewer than 23,000 for an event that has drawn as many as 170,513 (in 2015), many of them tightly packed around the grandstand and paddock or in the infield. It planned temperature checks, medical questionnaires and gift bags that included hand sanitizer and personal styluses for wagering.
Instead, its statement Friday cited a positivity rate that had climbed from “as low as 2 percent in June to a rapid escalation of 10 percent in recent days.” On Thursday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) had announced he would not attend the race because of the rising number of coronavirus cases and the need to focus on continuing protests around the police killing of Breonna Taylor.