America’s biggest horseracing event, the Kentucky Derby, will take behind closed doors for the first time in its almost 150-year history at the start of next month.
The Churchill Downs race — which usually welcomes a crowd of around 150,000 and last year attracted a record $165.5m in wagers — will be run without spectators on 5 September having already been rescheduled from May due to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Organiser Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) said it had planned to allow a limited crowd at the 146th Kentucky Derby, but an increase in Covid-19 cases in Louisville and the wider Kentucky region led to it making the decision to bar fans due to the prioritisation of health concerns.
“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,” CDI said in a statement. “We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our loyal fans.”
CDI had planned to allow 23,000 fans to attend and a maximum of 40% occupancy of reserved seats in proposals unveiled earlier this month.
The decision to run without fans includes the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, 4 September and all live racing at Churchill Downs Racetrack for Derby week (September 1-5). Only essential personnel and participants will be permitted on property.
Ticket holders for all Derby week race dates and related programming, including Dawn at the Downs, will be automatically issued a refund.
Last year, wagering on the Kentucky Derby Day race programme totalled $250.9m, an 11% increase over the 2018 total and previous record of $225.7m.
Wagering on the Kentucky Derby race itself increased 10% to $165.5m in 2019, beating the previous record of $149.9m set in 2018. Last year’s total included $4.1m of handle from Japan, in the first year the bets on the race had been taken in the country.