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Kentucky Derby postponed until September because of the coronavirus

The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs will now take place in the first weekend of September.
The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs will now take place in the first weekend of September.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

The Kentucky Derby, long known as the first Saturday in May, will become the first Saturday in September this year in light of the coronavirus crisis that has turned the traditional sports schedule upside down.

Churchill Downs is expected to make an announcement Tuesday morning that the race is being moved to Sept. 5, a person with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak told The Times. The Louisville Courier-Journal also reported the move.

The last time the Kentucky Derby was not held on the first Saturday in May was in 1945, when the U.S. government banned horse racing because of World War II. The war ended shortly after the traditional date of the Derby and the race was held June 9. The race was not held on the first Saturday in May 1901, but was held April 29.

The status of the other Triple Crown races remains unclear. Representatives of the Preakness, two weeks after the Derby, and Belmont Stakes, three weeks after the Preakness, told The Times they will make a statement after Churchill Downs makes an announcement Tuesday.

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The moves throw the traditional Kentucky Derby trail into disarray.

California horses, specifically those trained by Bob Baffert, have been brought along to race May 2. He has three undefeated colts, Authentic, Nadal and Charlatan, who are among the top five horses in the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. rankings. Authentic is No. 1.

The All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on July 14 may be in jeopardy after Major League Baseball again pushed back opening day to follow CDC guidelines.

There is a very methodical route to making it to the most famous horse race in the world. Major prep races are held about a month apart so that horses are in top form for the Derby.

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The races are the Louisiana Derby in New Orleans on Saturday, the Florida Derby in Hallandale Beach on March 28, or the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial in New York or Bluegrass Stakes in Lexington, Ky., on April 4. The Arkansas Derby in Hot Springs is April 11.

Santa Anita said it is still evaluating all options when it comes to the running of the Santa Anita Derby.

Now, what all of that means, well, no one is sure.

The late date for the Kentucky Derby also comes after the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., and Travers Stakes at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which may or may not become prep races for the Kentucky Derby.

Churchill Downs put out a news release late last week saying how important the race was to the city of Louisville, offering hints that running the race without an audience would be a financial burden to a city that relies on the race for a robust economy. Louisville remains a city that raises hotels and other rates well beyond what it would be during non-Derby times.

More will become clear in the next few days as horse racing adjusts to what Churchill Downs decided.


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