LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said it was a “very difficult” decision to move the Kentucky Derby from the first Saturday in May for only the second time in the race’s 145-year history, but postponing the race “must be done.”
WDRB confirmed through sources on Monday that the Louisville company had decided to move the race to Sept. 5 – Labor Day weekend – because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against large gatherings of people for the next eight weeks, making the Derby and its 150,000 closely packed attendees an impossibility as originally scheduled on May 2.
This year marks the first time since 1945 – when the Derby was run in June – that the race will not be on the first Saturday in May. Churchill Downs’ second-biggest race day of the year, the Kentucky Oaks, will be held as always the day before, Sept. 4.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Carstanjen called it the most the difficult and challenging circumstances the horse industry has faced in his career, but he tried to find positives in the change.
“This will be fun and give fans more time to learn about and evaluate this year’s crop of 3-year-old thoroughbreds,” Carstanjen said. “…None of this has or will be simple, however we believe that we can create a special opportunity that will help us all look forward to the times when these uncertainties are behind us and we can return to our familiar traditions.”
Louisville Tourism, the city's convention and visitors bureau, has estimated the Derby's local economic impact at just shy of $400 million.
It’s a difficult decision, but the right one. @KentuckyDerby 146 will run on September 5. I fully endorse this decision to keep our city safe. We welcome the world to Louisville every year for Derby. In 2020, it will be a few months later than usual. pic.twitter.com/3miMeVbyMZ— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) March 17, 2020
What happens if virus isn’t contained by September?
Churchill Downs’ plan is predicated on the novel virus being contained by Labor Day, but what if it isn’t?
Carstanjen did not detail the company’s contingency plans except to rule out running the race without the presence of fans.
“We are going to run the Kentucky Derby and we are going to run it with a crowd. The Kentucky Derby is a participatory event. Its energy and its magic really comes from everybody participating and being there to enjoy it,” he said. “We’re gonna make it happen. This race has happened 145 years in a row, and it’s gonna happen 146. So we’ll roll with the punches, but we feel very, very good that September is the right date.”
Carstanjen said NBC Sports is in talks with other racetrack operators to move the Preakness and Belmont.
For ticket and refund information, visit Churchill Downs' Derby updates page.
This story will be updated.