Kentucky Derby reverses course, will run without fans

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – The Kentucky Derby will take place without fans for the first time, Churchill Downs announced on Friday, citing the increase in COVID-19 cases in the region.

This will be the second Triple Crown race this year without spectators, after the Belmont Stakes in June. The Derby and Kentucky Oaks for fillies have been postponed from May 1-2 to September 4 and 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Churchill Downs had planned to limit participation in the 146th Derby to 23,000 people.

“We were confident in this plan, but we are committed to staying flexible using the best and most reliable information available,” Track said in a statement. “With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to revisit our planning again.

“We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our loyal fans.”

THE MASTERS TOURNAMENT WILL BE HELD WITHOUT FANS IN NOVEMBER

The track will reimburse ticket holders for all Derby Week race dates.

Churchill Downs said his decision came with the backing of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, who said the virus was continuing to spread in the state. Beshear, a Democrat, also cited a White House announcement that Louisville and surrounding Jefferson County are considered a “red zone” for the virus.

Beshear added that the county had registered 2,300 new cases this week alone and applauded Churchill Downs for “making the right responsible decision.”

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Churchill Downs did not clear spectators for its delayed spring encounter, which included the postponement of the Derby from the first Saturday in May for the first time since 1945. The change also moved the Derby to the central Triple Crown gem of the race, with the following Preakness. October 3 in Baltimore.

Churchill Downs had based its attendance limit on 14% of the 2015 record of 170,513, with reserved seats limited to 40% occupancy. General admission would have been limited to the 26 acres of land.

From now on, the Derby and the Oaks will take place without anyone under the Twin Spiers.

“It’s unfortunate and I don’t want to repeat it, of course,” Churchill Downs chairman Kevin Flanery said at a press conference. “There are more important things, and right now the important thing is the safety of our community, of our guests.”

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