Horse Racing

First Saturday in September: Pandemic delays Kentucky Derby to late summer

As a global coronavirus pandemic spreads, Churchill Downs Inc. says it will move the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby to Saturday, September 5. The late-summer Derby would mark the first time the race isn’t held the first Saturday in May since 1945, when it was postponed to June during the waning months of World War II. The move comes amid growing concerns about large public gatherings in the coming weeks and months. President Trump on Monday urged Americans to restrict their discretionary travel and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people for the next 15 days. Churchill Downs Inc. CEO, Bill Carstanjen said the racetrack and gambling company didn’t consider canceling the iconic race for 3-year-old horses, the first leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. “Throughout the rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic, our first priority has been how to best protect the safety and health of our guests, team members and community,” Carstanjen said. “As the situation evolved, we reached the difficult conclusion that we needed to reschedule.” Churchill now plans to run the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, September 4. In a conference call Tuesday morning, Carstanjen said the Derby would run this year and didn’t address any contingency plans if the virus is still spreading or begins to re-appear at the time of the race. The Derby routinely has more than 150,000 people in attendance. “We are determined that we are going to run the Kentucky Derby, and we are going to run it with a crowd,” Carstanjen said. The Derby is a participatory event.” Carstanjen said NBC Sports is in talks with other racetrack operators to move the Preakness and Belmont. The Derby is a consistent $400 million economic boon for Louisville with two weeks of events and celebration in the city, including Thunder Over Louisville. The race is just the latest event to be delayed in America’s rush to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Every major professional and collegiate event has been canceled or postponed, and many states have outright bans on gatherings of above a few hundred people.