Kentucky Derby to be run Sept. 5 without fans

Churchill Downs sits empty on May 2, when the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby was originally scheduled.
(Andy Lyons/ Getty Images)

This year’s Kentucky Derby will be run without fans for the first time in the 146-year history of the country’s most famous horse race.

It is the second change in plans since the race was postponed from May 2 to Sept. 5. It was originally scheduled to be run with limited fans in the grandstands and the infield. A few weeks ago, the infield was struck from the plan and limited attendance of slightly more than 25,000 was going to be allowed in the reserved seating sections. The Kentucky Derby normally draws more than 150,000 fans.

The latest change is in alignment with other signature events such as the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday and the Masters in mid-November, which also will be held without spectators.


“The virus is still aggressively spreading in Kentucky, and the White House has announced that Jefferson County and the city of Louisville are in a ‘red zone’ based on increases in cases,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “This week alone the county had more than 2,300 new cases.”

Beshear credited Churchill Downs for making “the right and responsible decision.”

The current positivity rate in the state is around 10%.

The no-fans rules are applicable for the entire week of racing. Only essential personnel and participants will be permitted at Churchill Downs, although “essential” was not defined.

The Kentucky Derby had already put restrictions on jockeys, requiring that they be in the state by Aug. 31 and undergo several coronavirus tests. Such a move would restrict out-of-state jockeys from riding on their regular circuit.

Flavien Prat, winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby, has elected to stay at Del Mar; Joel Rosario and Irad Ortiz will stay in New York. The riders would have been subject to quarantine restrictions when they returned to their regular circuit, as well.

“This year’s Kentucky Derby was never going to be the celebration we’re used to, but I could not be more grateful to our tremendous team members and community partners for all of their efforts,” said Bill Carstanjen, chief executive of Churchill Downs Inc. “We’ve left no stones unturned and reached the right decision.”

Fans are not allowed at almost all race tracks, including California, New York and Kentucky. Monmouth in New Jersey is the only major track that is allowing a limited number of spectators.