Two weeks before its delayed post time, officials have announced that the 2020 Kentucky Derby will be run without fans. The decision to run the rescheduled Sept. 5 races without fans also applies to the Kentucky Oaks and all live racing at Churchill Downs during Derby Week.
Earlier this month, Churchill Downs had planned to limit attendance to just 23,000 racegoers — typically the race draws more than 150,000 spectators, and when American Pharaoh crossed the finish line, 170,513 fans cheered him on.
This year, the silence will be deafening. But at least the race will still take place. The Kentucky Derby has been held every year since 1875 and has been staged on the first Saturday in May every year since 1946. The 1945 Derby was held on June 9 because of World War II.
The 2020 Kentucky Derby was estimated to bring $400 million to Louisville, as the weekend typically sells out the city’s 22,000 hotel rooms as well as more than 1500 short term rentals.
In addition to the absence of fans, several of the nation’s top jockeys will also miss the race. Jockeys currently at the Saratoga, NY summer meet have been told that if they travel out of state, they will not be permitted to re-enter track grounds. Among the jockeys choosing to remain in New York are Jose Ortiz, his brother Irad Ortiz Jr. and Joel Rosario.
Jockeys competing during Derby week are required to be in Kentucky by Aug. 31 for testing and safety protocols. New York racing officials have said that jockeys, trainers and backstretch employees traveling from outside the state would not be permitted to re-enter track grounds to participate in the current summer meet.
In fact, horse racing is one of the sports that has continued to hold meets — albeit with empty stands — throughout the pandemic. Not that many people need to be on site without the fans, and betting can be done online. Is it possible that this will help promote a resurgence of interest in horse racing?
The other question I have, and one which I haven’t seen an answer to, is how the horses are impacted by the lack of crowds. Certainly for many horses, the electric atmosphere of the the fans amps them up. My own OTTB, Freedom, was said to have lost his races on the way to the starting gate, as he used up too much energy fretting. On the flip side, there are probably horses that perform better with fans in the stands.
How do you think the lack of cheering crowds impacts the results? And will you still wear a fancy hat and drink a mint julep as you watch the race?