Kentucky Derby 2020 – In the Time of Coronavirus

The Kentucky Derby, normally the first race of the Triple Crown, will be on September 5, 2020 instead of the instead of the traditional first Saturday in May. Attendance will be less than 14% of total capacity from event record, maximum of 40% of seated capacity. There will be no General Admission this year and the infield will be closed.

Guests are encouraged to wager online. The potential the Kentucky Derby 2020 contenders sorted by the number of points earned during the Road to Kentucky Derby prep races and help with understanding the Odds for the race can be found at Kentucky Derby odds.

Churchill Downs officials announced a 62-page operations plan that will limit attendance for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby to fewer than 23,000 guests. Upon entry to the Derby, guests must have his or her temperature checked, a medical screening, are required to physically distance, and face coverings are mandated.

To reduce crowding, select Kentucky Derby Week activities have been eliminated including autograph signings, concerts in the Plaza, fashion contests, Taste of Derby, the Survivors Parade, and the Red Carpet.

Dawn at the Downs, the annual event to dine while observing morning workouts, has been moved to Monday, Aug. 31, and will be limited to guests with reserved seats; there will be no free general admission.

Reserved seating will be limited to a maximum of 40% occupancy. Also, Standing Room Only or “Walk Around” tickets have been eliminated. All outdoor ticket holders will be reseated in a new comparable location either prior to or during the event to provide for maximum distancing.

Each guest will receive a courtesy “Healthy at the Track” bag, which will include a disposable mask, a pocket-sized hand sanitizer, and a personal stylus for non-contact self-service wagering.

This plan will allow Churchill Downs to safely and responsibly host Kentucky Derby Week (Tuesday, Sept. 1 through Saturday, Sept. 5) with a limited number of spectators. The protocols will be in effect for all five days of the Sept. 1-5 racing meet at Churchill Downs.

The overwhelming early Kentucky Derby favorite is Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law, who easily won the 2020 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Tiz the Law, trained by Barclay Tagg and ridden by Manny Franco, has won six of his seven career starts and $2,015,300. Other top Derby contenders include Blue Grass Stakes and Ellis Park Derby winner Art Collector, Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A. P., and Haskell Stakes winner Authentic.

NBC will televise coverage of the Kentucky Derby and undercard racing on Sept. 5 from 2:30-7:30 p.m. ET. The 146th running of the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, the Derby’s counterpart for 3-year-old fillies, will be televised Friday, Sept. 4 on NBCSN from 3-6 p.m. ET.

This will be one of the largest crowds for a sporting event in the United States since sports began shutting down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A crowd of 30,000 fans was allowed at a NASCAR race on July 15 in Bristol, Tennessee.

Per Churchill Downs: “Medical best practices and protocols — many of which we have applied in consultation with experts both inside and outside the sports industry — will be implemented, and we’ll make adjustments all the way up to Derby Day as we find ways to improve and continue to adhere to ever-evolving best practices.”

In 2020, you learn to expect the unexpected. So when the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve announced that it would run on Sept. 5 instead of the traditional first Saturday in May, the schedule of qualifying races included some new summer events that have never had Derby points attached to them before.

In 2013, Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby began a system to qualify horses for the classic race by designating certain prep races with points: the higher the points value of a race, the tougher the competition. That’s because only 20 horses are able to run in the Kentucky Derby each year, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: only Triple Crown-nominated 3-year-old Thoroughbreds are eligible to run.

With more than a month left before the big race this year, it looks like the minimum qualifying points may be higher, since the horses lowest on the top 20 list already have at least 30 points to his or her credit.

The standings heading into August have Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law on top with a whopping 272 points.

  • Tiz the Law – Manny Franco 6-5. Last Race was Travers Stakes, Saratoga, 8/8, 1st by 5 1/2
  • Art Collector – Brian Hernandez, Jr. 5-1. Last Race was Ellis Park Derby, Ellis Park, 8/9, 1st by 3 1/4

With a little more than a month left until the run for the roses, there are still some prep races with qualifying points on the calendar.

Some of the jockeys have more than one ride. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this may cause some jockeys to give up some of his or her business/races due to Covid 14-day quarantine.

This unprecedented pandemic has caused tracks, most notably Del Mar and Saratoga, to institute policies whereby if a jockey leaves, he or she can’t come back before the meet ends. Both those meets end on Labor Day, two days after the Derby on Sept. 5, so riders from those locales who go to the Derby would miss out on at least the final three days of those lucrative meets.

Churchill Downs has yet to release its final protocols regarding jockeys who travel in for the Derby, the resolution of which could force riders to give up even more significant business at his or her home tracks.

An early working document from Churchill Downs regarding when jockeys needed to arrive required them to be in Kentucky by Aug. 24, which would force a rider to give up the final two weeks at Saratoga and Del Mar. That is expected to be tweaked. Still, for a jockey like Manny Franco, who rides Tiz the Law, or Mike Smith, who rides Honor A. P., it’s worth it, whatever the requirements. Perhaps not so much for others.

Activists are calling for cancellation of the 2020 Kentucky Derby, accusing the city of cracking down on demonstrations ahead of the event.  Protest groups working to find justice for Breonna Taylor want the Kentucky Derby cancelled this year. City leaders are accused of trying to make Louisville look good in front of a national audience, instead of addressing community issues like systemic racism.

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