By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: The rescheduled Kentucky Derby on September 5 will be run behind closed doors, after Churchill Downs abandoned plans to allow a limited number of spectators due to a coronavirus spike.
Louisville, the city in which Churchill Downs is located, remains a coronavirus ‘red zone’, while the track cited date suggesting infection rates had leapt from 2% in June to “a rapid escalation of 10% in recent days”.
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As a result, officials announced the decision on Friday that spectators will not be allowed on Kentucky Derby day nor any of the preceding days, including the Kentucky Oaks on Friday September 4.
Churchill Downs issued a statement on Friday, saying: “Churchill Downs and all of our team members feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility as citizens of Louisville to do all we responsibly can to protect the health, safety, and security of our community in these challenging times and believe that running the Derby without spectators is the best way to do that.”
Before Friday’s announcement, Churchill Downs had been planning to admit 24,000 people might be allowed on course to attend the Kentucky Derby. Originally there had been hopes of as many as 60,000 before that figure was amended earlier this month.
According to the office of Kentucky governor Andy Beshear, Jefferson County, where Louisville is located, has had more than 2,300 new coronavirus cases in the last week.
Beshear issued a statement welcoming the decision to run the Kentucky Derby without fans.
“I applaud Churchill Downs for continuing to monitor the virus and for making the right and responsible decision,” he said. “I am asking all Kentuckians to take action to stop the spread of the virus so we can get back to the many traditions we enjoy.”
In their statement, Churchill Downs officials cited figures from Louisville-based medical experts Norton Healthcare about increased Covid-19 positivity rates.
“This is a critical point in time for our community,” said Russell F. Cox, president and CEO of Norton Healthcare, who have tested more than 70,000 patients.
“This remains a very fluid situation and every event should be evaluated based on the data available as close to the date of the event as possible. We appreciate and support Churchill Downs’ decision.”
• Visit the Churchill Downs website