Will fans be allowed at the Kentucky Derby during the pandemic?

are fans allowed at kentucky derby
Photo via Bill Brine/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Fans are NOT allowed inside Churchill Downs
  • Originally, it was thought a small percentage of fans could attend
  • It’s the first time the Derby hasn’t run in May since World War II

Due to growing concerns for crowd health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic, countless events in the U.S. have been either rescheduled or canceled, including the 146th Kentucky Derby, which was moved from May 2 to Sept. 5 this year. It was also announced recently that Churchill Downs—the racetrack where the most famous horse race in the country is held every year—will not be allowing fans to witness the competition in person. So, no, fans are not allowed to go to the Kentucky Derby in 2020.

This decision comes only a couple of weeks after Churchill Downs officials first announced that the race would go on as planned with a live audience, albeit without a general admission section nor infield access. Attendance would have also been limited to less than 23,000 people, which is reportedly only 13.5% of the 170,513 guests that attended the event in 2015. 

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) approved of the initial plan and believed the annual race could be held safely as long as a mandatory mask rule was enforced. Since then, though, Churchill Downs changed course and opted instead for an audience-less affair. Beshear has followed suit with his support.

“I applaud Churchill Downs for continuing to monitor the virus and for making the right and responsible decision,” Beshear said in the statement. “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.”

The Kentucky Derby—regarded as the longest running sporting event in the country and widely known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”—is annually held on the first Saturday in May and has been presented continuously since 1875. This is only the second time the Derby was rescheduled to a later date, the first time occurring at the end of World War II.

Meanwhile, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., who was slated to ride Art Collector in the Derby, has been diagnosed with COVID-19. According to the Daily Racing Form, Hernandez doesn’t yet know if he can participate in the race.

Had the plan to let 23,000 fans attend the race pushed through, it would have been one the largest sporting event crowd in the country since sports began shutdowns in March due to COVID-19 (though some NFL teams will also allow fans into stadiums for games). But with the city of Louisville’s caseload so high the week of the Kentucky Derby and with the city’s chief health strategist saying, “We don’t have the public health capacity to keep up with all the new cases,” Churchill Downs has probably made the correct decision.

The latest decision to push through with the horse race without fans also applies to the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4, as well as all live racing held at Churchill Downs during Derby Week. Tickets will be automatically refunded, according to the race organizers.

In the end, the normally packed stands were empty, though a few spectators, mostly connected to horse owners or the media, were allowed to watch Authentic upset odds-on favorite Tiz The Law to score the Kentucky Derby win.

Sources: Bleacher Report, USA Today, Louisville Courier Journal, Kentucky Derby

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