LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs will be real quiet.
The historic track announced Friday that no fans will be allowed at the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s not an easy decision,” Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said. “It’s one we tried, the best we could, to get over the finish line with it, but ultimately the safety of our guests, the community, our employees is the number one priority. So we made this decision to move forward.”
Churchill Downs announced its decision via news release Friday at about 4 p.m. Flanery then spoke briefly to media about an hour later. Flanery said the decision came after an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area and across the state. Ticket holders for all Derby week race dates and related programming will be issued a full refund.
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It’s a reversal from Churchill’s announcement on Aug. 12, when it said it would allow approximately 23,000 fans at the track whose attendance record of 170,000 was set in 2015. That first change, as well as Friday’s news, was mostly attributed to the threat of the coronavirus.
“I applaud Churchill Downs for continuing to monitor the virus and for making the right and responsible decision,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear 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, like the Kentucky Derby.”
Flanery was asked at Friday’s media availability if the city’s civil unrest in recent months factored into the decision as well.
“We understand that we’re not alone with this,” he said. “But everybody’s hurting across the globe, across the city ... In the end, I know that this community will come together.”
In a statement, Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen also addressed the unrest.
“This year’s Kentucky Derby was never going to be the celebration we’re used to,” he said. “We hope our fans, the Louisville community and our country find an opportunity over the coming weeks to reflect on the challenges we have faced this year as a community and as a nation, and work together toward a better and safer future.”
People WAVE 3 News spoke to that live near Churchill Downs, who normally would charge people to park on their lawns during Derby week, said they are not surprised. Teresa Castle said she and her husband would normally have about 100 cars on their property during Derby week. She said the extra income has helped over the years.
“Tuition and raising kids was the big thing and then after that, it was kind of grandma and grandpa’s way of getting to go on vacation to see the grandkids,” Castle told WAVE 3 News. “But you know we’ll survive without it.”
She’s grateful for a break but is looking forward to seeing the people who normally park at her house next year.
“Most of them that come in here have been coming 20, 30 years,” Castle said. “We’ve got regulars that’ve been here for years and it’s like almost like a family reunion. That’s the sad part about this year is not getting to see everybody.”
Richard Lorenzo lives on the same street and said he normally makes a few thousand dollars each year. The extra money isn’t a concern to him this year though, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t have to do this,” Lorenzo said. “I’m kind of relieved. So, I don’t make no money. Maybe it’s time I’m not supposed to make money. Just sit back and think and relax and trip out and be thankful I’m still alive today.”
WAVE 3 News will once again be your official Kentucky Derby station and will provide live Oaks Day coverage on Sept. 4 from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and live, Derby Day coverage from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. NBC will take over Saturday’s coverage at 2:30 p.m., meaning you’ll be able to keep it on WAVE 3 News for daylong coverage, culminating with the 146th running of the world’s most famous horse race.
Also noteworthy, the Indy 500 announced on Aug. 4 that it will run without spectators. It airs Sunday on WAVE 3 News at 1 p.m.
Post times have not yet been announced for the Derby, but the race usually goes off between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.