LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs Racetrack officials released Wednesday a detailed 62-page health and safety operations plan that will limit attendance to the 146th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby on Saturday, Sept. 5 to less than 14% of total capacity from the 2015 attendance record.
The Kentucky Derby, first staged in 1875, is the longest continually-held major sporting event in the United States and was originally scheduled for May 5. A record crowd of 170,513 attended the event in 2015. Due to physical distancing protocols and other safety measures in place to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19, less than 23,000 guests are expected Sept. 5 for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby 146.
There will be no General Admission this year. Churchill Downs stated in late June that General Admission would be limited to the 26-acre Infield. However, given current circumstances, pre-purchased General Admission tickets will be refunded, and the Infield will be closed.
Reserved seating will be limited to a maximum of 40% occupancy. Also, Standing Room Only or “Walk Around” tickets have been eliminated. All outdoor ticket holders will be reseated in a new comparable location either prior to or during the event to provide for maximum distancing.
Temperature checks, medical questionnaires, physical distancing and mandatory face coverings will be required upon entrance and movement within the 190-acre Churchill Downs. An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. Each guest will receive a courtesy “Healthy at the Track” bag, which will include a disposable mask, a pocket-sized hand sanitizer and a personal stylus for non-contact self-service wagering.
Compliance of Churchill Downs’ public safety measures is a condition of admittance and will be strictly enforced. Offenders will receive a warning; repeat offenders will be escorted from the property.
“The opportunity to safely welcome back a limited number of guests to Churchill Downs on the first week of September is a privilege that our team doesn’t take for granted,” said Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery. “Our extensive plan meets or exceeds all recommended state and local guidelines. We’ve received an exceptional level of support from regulators, medical experts and public health authorities and we’ll continue to carefully work with them to ensure we’re doing everything we can to keep our customers, employees and communities safe.
“We will have fewer guests at this year’s Derby as reducing the size of the crowd is an important step to ensuring a safe environment. Medical best practices and protocols – many of which we have applied in consultation with experts both inside and outside the sports industry – will be implemented, and we’ll make adjustments all the way up to Derby Day as we find ways to improve and continue to adhere to ever-evolving best practices.
“The role of the Kentucky Derby and its importance to our community and the nation as a whole takes on even greater significance this year. Over the past several months, our country has faced both the spread of COVID-19 and a moment of national reckoning with racial inequities following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others. These important issues deserve thoughtful discussion, continued conversation and subsequent action. To this end, the atmosphere at this year’s Kentucky Derby will not be the celebration it normally is. However, we’re optimistic that this time-honored event, which belongs to our community and our country, will serve as a progressive unifying force that can help bring us together.”
Churchill Downs’ detailed 62-page health and safety operations plan was developed over the last four months in close collaboration with public health experts and other relevant stakeholders. Advice and counsel from the Louisville Metro Health Department along with key elements of Kentucky’s Healthy at Work guidance are incorporated throughout the document. This plan will allow Churchill Downs to safely and responsibly host Kentucky Derby Week (Tuesday, Sept. 1 through Saturday, Sept. 5) with a limited number of spectators. The original plan was approved by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear in late June, and this version exceeds all recommended state and local guidelines and is subject to continued review.
Highlights of the plan include:
• Attendance will be limited with no Standing Room Only or “Walk Around” tickets and a maximum of 40% occupancy of reserved seats.
• There will be no general admission tickets throughout Kentucky Derby Week. Attendance will be limited to guests with reserved seats. The Infield will be closed on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days.
• Wearing cloth face coverings will be mandatory throughout the entire venue, both indoors and outdoors, when not actively consuming food or beverage.
• Everyone entering Churchill Downs will be screened via a medical questionnaire and a contactless thermometer. Individuals with a temperature in excess of 100 degrees will be prohibited from entering Churchill Downs.
• Personal-use hand sanitizers will be provided upon entry and more than 500 hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the facility.
• Signage will be displayed throughout the venue to encourage healthy practices and staff and security will move about the facility to monitor conditions and assist customers.
• Access throughout the facility will be severely limited. Entry points to any seating sections beyond designated seating areas throughout the facility will be eliminated.
• Seating with up to 40% capacity will be repositioned to provide for greater distancing.
• Pari-mutuel tellers will be properly spaced and provided PPE for betting transactions. Guests are encouraged to wager online through TwinSpires.com, the official advance deposit wagering platform of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.
• Options from concession stands will be limited to mostly pre-packaged foods. Plated meals and meal packages from pre-set menus will be served in other locations.
• With the reduced capacity, guest shuttles from offsite parking locations are being eliminated and guests are encouraged to utilize neighborhood-parking options. Refunds will be made to all attending ticket holders that had offsite parking included with a reserved seat.
• To reduce crowding, select Kentucky Derby Week activities have been eliminated including autograph signings, concerts in the Plaza, fashion contests, Taste of Derby, the Survivors Parade and the Red Carpet.
• Dawn at the Downs, the annual event to dine while observing morning workouts, has been moved to Monday, Aug. 31, and will be limited to guests with reserved seats; there will be no free general admission.
• Key programming elements will transition to digital platforms.
• The stable area will be restricted to essential personnel. Guests and parties in the stable area for morning workouts and during race days will be prohibited.
• Additional protocols for Stable Area personnel and race participants (jockeys, trainers, grooms, etc.) will be finalized in the coming days.
The full plan includes details on Churchill Downs’ protocols for facility sanitation, cleaning and disinfecting practices and workforce preparation training and deployment.
“For those guests who plan to join us for this year’s Derby, we promise you that we will make it a wonderful experience, and most importantly, we will make it as safe and comfortable as we possibly can,” Flanery said.
The complete safety operations plan can be viewed online at www.KentuckyDerby.com/DerbySafetyPlan.
NBC will televise coverage of the Kentucky Derby and undercard racing on Sept. 5 from 2:30-7:30 p.m. ET. The 146th running of the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, the Derby’s counterpart for 3-year-old fillies, will be televised Friday, Sept. 4 on NBCSN from 3-6 p.m. ET.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying races are nearing completion. Saturday’s Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park is the final race on the extended schedule and will award 20-8-4-2 points to the top four finishers. The overwhelming early Kentucky Derby favorite is Sackatoga Stables’ Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law, who easily won last weekend’s Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Tiz the Law, trained by Barclay Tagg and ridden by Manny Franco, has won six of his seven career starts and $2,015,300. Other top Derby contenders include Blue Grass Stakes and Ellis Park Derby winner Art Collector; Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A. P.; and Haskell Stakes winner Authentic.