That all changed Friday.
“We have made the difficult decision to hold this year’s Kentucky Derby on September 5 without fans,’’ Churchill Downs said in a news release. “Churchill Downs and all of our team members feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility as citizens of Louisville to do all we responsibly can to protect the health, safety and security of our community in these challenging times and believe that running the Derby without spectators is the best way to do that.”
The decision comes after the mayor of Louisville had said he would not attend the Derby, and Gov. Andy Beshear said he hadn’t decided whether to attend.
Beshear also released a statement through Churchill Downs, stating his support for the 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.”
There also will be no spectators allowed at any time during Derby Week (Sept. 1-5), including the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on Sept. 4.
Churchill Downs had worked for months trying to plan out a safe Derby, which was postponed from its usual first Saturday in May to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Derby is traditionally the first leg of the Triple Crown, but in 2020 it’s the second. The Belmont Stakes (G1) became the first leg rather than the third and was won by Tiz the Law, who is considered the solid favorite to take the 146th Derby. The Belmont, like just about every other major race in the country, has been run without spectators and only essential track personnel.
“The Kentucky Derby is a time-honored American tradition which has always been about bringing people together. However, the health and safety of our team, fans and participants is our highest concern,’’ Churchill Downs said in the news release.
Added Bill Carstanjen, the CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated:
“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. We’ve left no stones unturned and reached the right decision,” he said.