LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – On Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear cast doubt on whether there will be Kentucky football games this fall, saying, “We ought to be really hesitant to have 60,000 people together at something” because of the novel coronavirus.
While Beshear added that it's too early to make those calls and public health experts will have the final say, his comment raises questions about another large event: the Kentucky Derby, which is planned for Sept. 5.
The Derby regularly draws 150,000 people, and only the wealthiest (and perhaps some infield-goers) have much breathing room apart from other attendees.
Churchill Downs is holding firm on its plan to run the race on Labor Day weekend and with spectators, but is it realistic?
That's the question I put to Mayor Greg Fischer during his daily virtual media briefing on Wednesday.
In a long and equivocal answer, Fischer appealed for flexibility and said that, if the already-delayed Derby does go off, it will be a “different” event than in previous years.
“There is no question it’s going to be different this year… We are going to have to be very careful and very judicious, obviously. Sporting events – any gatherings of large kind – are going to be different until there’s a vaccine. We’re not going to have a vaccine by the Derby. And so, there could be some way to run the Derby. We’re just going to be very attentive to what that is. Obviously they don’t need fans to run the Derby, but it’s not going to be like prior Derbies. I just don’t know what that’s going to be like right now… We’re going to have to be flexible as we work toward that, see where the virus is and where all these other things are right now. I think we all know that we’re going to have to be flexible around these things and large gatherings of any kind are not going to be encouraged here in the near future.”
While Fischer hinted at running the race without spectators, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen already ruled that out on March 17, when the company announced it would move the race from its traditional date on the first Saturday of May.
“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,” Carstanjen said at the time. “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.”
A Churchill Downs spokesman declined to comment on Thursday except to say there are no changes to the plan the company laid out last month.
The Derby is by far the most important event each year for Louisville’s tourism industry. Louisville Tourism, the city's convention and visitors bureau, has estimated its local economic impact at just shy of $400 million.