Quintessential Kentucky Derby in September


Kentucky Derby Image: Alex Slitz

The postponed 146th running of the Kentucky Derby will be hosted in the presence of spectators under strict guidelines. This was declared by the Churchill Downs Racecourse in Kentucky, US.

The Kentucky Derby is a horse race held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, United States, almost always on the first Saturday in May, capping the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. The competition is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds at a distance of one and a quarter miles at Churchill Downs.

Churchill Downs, located at Central Avenue in south Louisville, Kentucky, United States, is a Thoroughbred racetrack most famous for annually hosting the Kentucky Derby. It officially opened in 1875 and was named after Samuel Churchill, whose family was prominent in Kentucky for many years.

Kentucky Derby Week will be held from September 1-5 with the Oaks on September 4 and the Derby on the following day. Every year, the events attract humongous crowd – more than 100,000 horse racing fans. Till the other day, it was still not clear whether spectators would be allowed due to COVID-19 which still has the US in its fatal grip. Coronavirus cases have plateaued in Kentucky recently despite rising counts across US.

Churchill Downs celebrated the first Saturday in May, the traditional date of the Kentucky Derby, by staging a day-long at-home party to raise $2m (£1.61m/€1.78m) for COVID-19 emergency relief efforts.

The 146th Kentucky Derby was postponed from May 2 until September 5 due to the deadly coronavirus. The new date marks the first time in 75 years that the quintessential event will not be run on the first Saturday in May.

Churchill Downs will stage this year’s event with limited spectators in general admission, outdoor reserved seating, premium dining and suites after consulting Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and local health officials. Fans will be “consistently and frequently” encouraged to wear masks at all times unless seated, to practice social distancing when possible and to wash or sanitize hands frequently. The plan also includes guests keeping their distance from one another in the stands and in the barns, fewer interactions throughout the venue and spaced out guest areas.

The plan has been developed in tandem with the local health and labor departments. Flanery informed that general admission could be cut as much as 60 percent.

Said Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery, “Our team is deeply committed to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever, and we will take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of all who attend and participate in the Derby.”

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have established a comprehensive set of operating procedures, which include a multitude of precautionary measures to be followed while fans are in attendance at our facility. We are determined to keep our customers, employees and communities as safe as we responsibly can,” Flanery added.

A clear picture has not emerged as to how the protocols would be enforced, though officials said they would “severely” limit access throughout the facility. General admission tickets would be sold only for the track’s infield, and “guests will be consistently and frequently encouraged to wear a mask at all times unless seated in their reserved seat or venue,” the plan mentioned.

Flanery told mediapersons that employees at the track would be required to wear masks in accordance with State protocols at the time of the race. Masks are not required, but are heavily encouraged in Kentucky right now.

“It’s going to be a very different experience, and we want to be respectful moving forward in a responsible way. But, it will be different and we’re relying on spectators coming together with us to make this a unique and safe experience,” Flanery further put in.

The Kentucky Derby is known for its electrifying atmosphere as much as its thoroughbred racing. Daily health screenings will not be in place and gourmet spread promises is ensured. Food will be served individually, rather than at chefs’ tables, concession lines and betting tellers will be spread out with queued lines, and gamblers will be encouraged to wager from their phones.

The announcement mentioned that tickets purchased for the Derby’s original date in May were automatically valid. The staff plans to individually contact ticketholders to determine whether they plan to attend.

Flanery also informed that they would work with State officials to update protocols if circumstances change during the outbreak.

“We really are a very unique event and a unique facility — we don’t fit into the mold of an arena or a golf course. So, that gives us the flexibility to work on those issues,” Flanery noted.

This year’s Derby, could be just as uncanny like any other sporting events during the coronavirus bane.

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