Virus Outbreak Kentucky Derby Postponed Horse Racing

Churchill Downs will postpone the Derby from May 2, 2020, to Sept. 5, making it the first time in 75 years that the race won’t be run on the first Saturday in May.

The Kentucky Derby was postponed until September on Tuesday, the latest rite of spring in sports to be struck by the new coronavirus along with the Masters, March Madness and baseball season.

The Derby, America’s longest continuously held sports event, had been scheduled for May 2. It will now be run Sept. 5, kicking off Labor Day weekend.

“We’ll roll with the punches, and feel very, very good that September is the right date,” Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc., said on a conference call.

It’s the first time the Derby won’t be held on its traditional first Saturday in May since 1945, when it was run June 9. The federal government suspended horse racing nationwide for most of the first half of the year before World War II ended in early May, but not in time to hold the first leg of the Triple Crown that month.

The date change still must be approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission at its meeting Thursday. Still to be decided are the dates of the next two legs of horse racing’s showcase series — the Preakness and Belmont.

Carstanjen said the September date was chosen after talks with NBC Sports, which televises the Triple Crown races, based on the limited number of sports events that weekend and hotel availability in Louisville.

Churchill Downs clearly wasn’t interested in running the 146th Derby without fans in the stands, which is what other tracks have been doing, including Santa Anita in California, Oaklawn in Arkansas and the Fair Grounds in Louisiana.

“We feel confident we are going to run the Kentucky Derby and run it with a crowd,” Carstanjen said. “It’s a participatory event.”

The race itself lasts just two minutes, but the partying and socializing goes on throughout Derby week, with celebrity-stuffed charity galas and private house parties. Last year’s race drew 150,729 fans.

The tradition of sipping mint juleps, donning fancy hats and dress clothes, and the crowd singalong to “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses step onto the track has always made the Derby more than just a sports event. People who pay little attention to horse racing the rest of the year typically watch the Derby and wager on it either formally or in pools set up at parties.

The Derby was first run in 1875 and has gone uninterrupted, even through the Great Depression and World Wars I and II.

In 1943, there were travel restrictions imposed by World War II and no out-of-town tickets were sold. Still, the Derby went on, with Count Fleet winning in front of 65,000. The colt won the Triple Crown that year.