America’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby, will be held on Sept. 5 and has announced that it will allow spectators to attend the event.
Louisville’s biggest annual event was pushed back four months from May due to the coronavirus pandemic. The horse race in September will feature smaller crowds and capacity, requiring every staff member, guests, fans, and officials to wear masks as well as hand gloves when needed.
Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs, said that these requirements across the property and social distancing should help limit virus risks.
Flanery had been in consultation with Andy Beshear, the governor of Kentucky, and health officials over the decision to bring spectators back to the event.
“Churchill Downs submitted a comprehensive plan to state government that ensures that the Kentucky Derby will look very different this year,” said Beshear. “The changes will help to protect the health and safety of every Kentuckian, which is my main priority.”
It is still not clear how many guests would be allowed to Churchill Downs. Last year, 150,000 fans attended the event, and the general admission is thinking of cutting the number as much as 60 percent and reducing outdoor seating by 57 percent. The capacity of some of the dining areas will also be cut down 33 percent.
Churchill Downs has a total market value of $5.2 billion. Gamblers wagered nearly $251 million on the Kentucky Derby last year, with $48.4 million gambled online through official online and mobile betting sites for the company.
Not All In Agreement
Although Beshear and the state health officials permitted the Derby’s plans, the Metro health administration and Mayor Greg Fischer urged residents to stay home as much as possible and keep practicing social distancing as well as wearing masks and frequently washing hands.
There will be a few adjustments to how people can gamble and enjoy the race. Food will be served individually, rather than at chef’s tables, concession lines and betting tellers will be spread out with queued lines, and gamblers will be encouraged to wager through their phones.
Dr. Steven Stack, the state’s Department for Public Health commissioner, advised people over age 65 or with chronic medical issues to avoid all mass gatherings, including the Kentucky Derby, and stay healthy at home since they are at higher risk for serious harm.
The president and CEO of Louisville Tourism, Karen Williams, was excited about the news. Bringing fans to the event meant that the state’s hospitality industry and 27,000 local workers whose jobs depend on tourism will have the opportunity to function again.
The race has 60,000 permanent, reserved seats, and all of them have already been purchased. The company is planning to individually contact ticketholders and determine whether they plan to attend.
Also, it will require all ticket purchasers to provide a phone number and email address in case they must be contacted about possible exposure to the coronavirus.
Plans for the grand event are still developing, and Flanery will work with state officials to update protocols if conditions change during the outbreak.