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Rescheduled Kentucky Derby to allow attending fans

The 2019 Kentucky Derby (Credit: Getty Images)

Churchill Downs said it intends to hold the rescheduled Kentucky Derby this September with attending fans, potentially representing one of the stiffest tests for the sports industry against the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

More than three months after the race that typically starts horse racing’s Triple Crown was moved from its usual May slot, race organizers said an unspecified number of attending fans will be permitted “under strict guidelines” after consultation with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and local public health officials.

Executives for Churchill Downs did not detail how many fans will be allowed for the Derby itself on September 5, or the preceding Kentucky Oaks the day before. But given the Derby normally attracts more than 150,000 people, representing one of the largest single-day sports events of any type in the United States, even a fraction of that number would be a larger crowd than what is now generally contemplated elsewhere in the industry amid the public health crisis.

“We have established a comprehensive set of operating procedures, which include a multitude of precautionary measures to be followed while fans are in attendance at our facility,” said Kevin Flanery, Churchill Downs president. “We are determined to keep our customers, employees, and communities as safe as we responsibly can.”

Beyond the unknown attendance restrictions, other health and safety protocols planned for the event including restricted access within the facility, “frequently encouragement” of fans to wear masks, a shift from paper-based commemorative tickets to mobile tickets, and various changes to venue operations to limit person-to-person touchpoints.

“The impact of the Kentucky Derby extends well beyond the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs,” Flanery said. “It is an incredibly important time for the City of Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky culturally, economically, and with respect to our time-honored traditions.”

Churchill Downs is expected to release additional information on tickets and seating in the coming days.