The Sept 5 GI Kentucky Derby will be held with a limited amount of spectators in the stands, it was announced Thursday by Churchill Downs.
“We are happy to announce that we will conduct Derby week with fans,” Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery said. “It's going to be a different experience. This is a different year.”
Churchill's plans to conduct the races with fans was approved by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and state health officials. The Derby was moved from its traditional spot, the first Saturday in May, to September because of the coronavirus pandemic. Churchill is currently holding its spring-summer meet with no fans allowed at the races.
What remains to be seen is exactly how many fans will be allowed into a facility that routinely attracts at least 150,000 for America's favorite horse race. Flanery said there will be a “reduced capacity” but added that it is too early to speculate just how many people will be allowed to attend.
“We will have reduced capacities at various points throughout the facility,” Flanery said. “We will work through that. We are just getting the guidelines and just got the approvals yesterday. We have some work to do. Our team, they are in it up to their necks and having a great time and doing everything right to guarantee people have a great experience once they come into this facility.”
While the Churchill team will continue to work on measures and protocols that will be in place for the Derby week crowds, a few guidelines have been established.
In an effort to limit the flow of people moving around in the grandstand, anyone purchasing a general admission ticket will be limited to the infield. That means that only those who have seats will be allowed inside the main grandstand. And barn area access will be restricted to essential personnel. Guests and parties in the barn area for morning workouts and during race days will be eliminated.
Flanery said that there are about 60,000 seats in the grandstand.
“I am not worried about the number (of attendees) at this point,” Flannery said. “What I am worried about is making sure we have good protocols in place and that we are talking with our guests and developing a plan that works. We are looking at guidelines on how to do that. I am more focused on what is the experience going to be like. We have the guidelines from the state to work with, but obviously it is a reduced capacity.”
Tickets purchased for the original Derby date will be honored. Anyone who cannot or is not willing to attend on the Sept. 5 date will be issued a refund.
As far as what will be expected from fans, that, too, is a work in progress. In its press release, Churchill announced that there will be a “revised Fan Code of Conduct that establishes expectations for guests coming to the Derby.” Flanery said fans will be encouraged to wear masks but stopped short of saying they will be mandatory.
“Masks are something every business is dealing with,” Flanery said. “We will encourage everybody to wear a mask, especially when they are walking around…We understand that no person is perfect. We all forget sometimes. I think we will do this together. We need to communicate, communicate, communicate.”
Flanery noted that even a Derby run four months later than normal and with restrictions on how many people can attend will be a welcome development for racing and for the city of Louisville.
“We have to take baby steps as a community to move forward and do something that lifts the spirits of this town and the world,” he said. “We are going to do our part on both sides, to be safe and responsible, but also to make sure that we do our part so that we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”