Rescheduled Kentucky Derby hopes to outrace COVID-19


The rescheduled Kentucky Derby will take place this September with pandemic restrictions on fans who dare to risk watching the race in person.

On Wednesday, Churchill Downs Racetrack (CDRT) confirmed that, following discussions with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and state health officials, the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday, September 5 at the iconic Louisville racetrack.

The annual Derby Week event was supposed to take place in early May but CDRT’s parent company Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) was forced to cancel the festivities due to fears that jamming thousands of people cheek-to-jowl in grandstands was possibly not the best strategy in the face of a global pandemic.

CDRT president Kevin Flanery said the company had worked with state officials to establish “a comprehensive set of operating procedures” to keep fans and organizers safe during the five-day Derby Week festivities.

These include venue capacity reductions, restrictions on access throughout the facility (including eliminating all non-essential personnel from the barn area) and changes in venue operations to limit person-to-person touchpoints.

The track says guests will be “consistently and frequently encouraged to wear a mask at all times unless seated in their reserved seat or venue.” That laissez-faire stance looks somewhat optimistic given the mandatory mask rules now being imposed in many US states, including many southern states that are dealing with a dramatic resurgence in COVID-19 cases (although Kentucky is doing better than most at present).

When it cancelled the May event, CDI teamed up with virtual race/sports producers Inspired Entertainment to conduct what it called the Triple Crown Showdown, a simulated race featuring digital renditions of the past 13 Triple Crown winners. The virtual event was used as a fundraiser for COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

In other CDI news, the company announced this week that its Arlington International Racecourse in Illinois would commence its 2020 Summer Meet on July 23 with the final race taking place on September 26. The racing will be conducted on a ‘spectator-free’ basis, as per instructions of the Illinois Racing Board, but bettors will be able to wager via Arlington’s off-track betting locations and CDI’s TwinSpires advance deposit wagering site.