Churchill Downs plans for Kentucky Derby with fans, crowd size unknown

By CONNIE LEONARD | WAVE 3 News

It’s official.

Churchill Downs announced Thursday it will allow fans during the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 4 and 5, respectively.

Postponed because of the coronavirus crisis, this year’s Derby won’t draw a crowd of 150,000 as is the norm in recent years, as the track announced there will be capacity limitations. Churchill Downs officials said they are still trying to figure out how big the crowd will be.

While venues like LouCity’s Lynn Family Stadium have announced opening at 50-percent capacity, Churchill officials said that with 190 acres, they have much more room for social distancing. That means for now, the Kentucky Derby will not be the odd Triple Crown race the Belmont was with no one there to see it last weekend.

The current ghost town at Churchill Downs will liven up, but Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said the Derby will be a much-reduced crowd, adding that Gov. Andy Beshear and state health officials approved the plan Wednesday. Flanery said his team is contacting ticket holders to gauge interest. As for everyone else?

“We will limit access for general admission tickets to the infield.” Flanery said. “That will alleviate a lot of the crowd on the front side in the paddock area. Our infield has 26 acres of property there, so we’ve got a lot of space there.”

Flanery said the general admission crowd will be about 50 to 60 percent. WAVE 3 News’ calculations put that at about 20,000 people alone. Meanwhile, everyone on the front side will have a seat, getting in with a mobile ticket, not the usual Derby keepsake ticket.

“All of our employees will be wearing masks and those who should will be wearing gloves,” Flanery said. “We’re asking the guests also to wear masks as they’re coming into the facility and moving around the facility at various times.”

Kentucky Derby
This year’s Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.

Churchill has invested to boost WiFi so more betting can be done by phone. Eclipse-Award winning Jockey Julien Leparoux, who’s been riding at Ellis Park this season, said the news about the Derby is great for fans, jockeys and the sport.

“It’s an important decision, you know?” Leparoux said. “I mean, the Kentucky Derby without fans, just talk about day-to-day races just being weird (without fans), I mean if the Kentucky Derby had no fans, it would be very difficult.”

Flanery said food will be delivered to fans differently using safety protocols, barn access will be restricted and media coverage will be cut back. With two months to go amid a pandemic, Flanery said things could certainly change, but they are remaining hopeful.

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Post expires at 10:27am on Wednesday August 26th, 2020