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Churchill Downs will now stage Kentucky Derby without fans

Churchill Downs Racetrack has reversed its recently updated plans to allow up to 23,000 fans to attend the September 5 Kentucky Derby, and now says it will hold the prominent horse race without any attending fans due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Officials for Churchill Downs said the continued spread of the virus, particularly in and around the Louisville, Kentucky, region, forced the abrupt about-face. 

“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 organization said in a statement. “We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our fans.”

The race was previously rescheduled from its typical May staging to Labor Day weekend because of the pandemic. Even with the prior plan looking to reduce attendance to roughly 13.5 per cent of the event’s 2015 attendance record of 170,513, bringing 23,000 fans into the Derby still would have represented one of the most-attended sports events anywhere in the US since the onset of the pandemic.

Churchill Downs less than two weeks ago released a 62-page operations plan detailing provisions for that adjusted attendance.

But ultimately, those projected numbers and current virus case numbers prevented that from happening.

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

Ticketholders for all Derby week events will be refunded.

The Belmont Stakes, typically the third leg of US horse racing’s Triple Crown, was previously held June 20 without spectators. The rescheduled Preakness Stakes will happen October 3 at a Pimlico Race Course now set for a large-scale renovation, but attendance details for that event have not yet been finalized.