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Sports >  National sports

Kentucky Derby could be moved to later in the year

UPDATED: Mon., March 16, 2020

Horses race at the 2019 Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky. Churchill Downs will make an announcement about the timing of the 2020 race on Tuesday, with reports suggesting it will be moved to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
Horses race at the 2019 Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky. Churchill Downs will make an announcement about the timing of the 2020 race on Tuesday, with reports suggesting it will be moved to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
By Matt Bonesteel Washington Post

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Churchill Downs on Monday said in a statement that it will make an announcement on Tuesday at 9 a.m. Eastern time “regarding the timing” of this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Media outlets on Monday evening reported that the Kentucky Derby would be moved to Sept. 5.

The race has been held every year since 1875 but has been held outside the month of May only twice. In 1945, the race was held June 9 after a federal ban on horse racing during World War II – enacted in January of that year – was lifted.

The Kentucky Derby and its associated events attract hundreds of thousands of people to Louisville, with last year’s race drawing more than 150,000 at Churchill Downs. But amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday urged a nationwide halt to gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, which would cover the May 2 race date.

“During times of uncertainty, our traditions provide a great sense of comfort,” Churchill Downs said in a statement Sunday. “We realize, that for many of you, the Kentucky Derby is a treasured annual tradition, and for others, a bucket-list experience. The time-honored traditions of the Kentucky Derby are as much about the fans as the race itself.”

Trainer Bob Baffert told Horse Racing Nation to expect a later date for this year’s race.

“Churchill is saying they’re not going to run the Derby without the people there,” he said, “so I’m hearing maybe June or in September.”

Moving the Kentucky Derby to later in the year presents a number of issues, considering that the 3-year-old contenders spend the spring running in prep races and accruing points toward entry in the first leg of the triple crown.

A number of tracks held races over the weekend without fans present and will continue to do so, making horse racing one of the few sports to remain operational amid the coronavirus.

“It’s not a contact sport,” David O’Rourke, chief executive of the New York Racing Association, told the Daily Racing Form on Friday. “The jocks can ride against each other all day and can be essentially isolated from interacting with each other. We believe this is prudent. But as we’ve seen in the last week, anything can change. Regardless, we got to take care of the horses anyway, so running racing incrementally isn’t that far a reach over what we’re going to have to do anyway.”

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan decreed that the state’s horse racing tracks and casinos be “closed to the general public,” though racing continued Sunday at Laurel Park. The shutdown could affect the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, which is scheduled to run May 16. Moving the date of the Preakness outside the month of May could be a challenge, considering that the Maryland Racing Commission only has approved racing at Pimlico for May 7-25 this year. Under a Maryland law passed in 1987, the Preakness can be moved away from Pimlico “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.”

Last week, Keeneland in Kentucky said that its popular spring meet will go on as planned starting April 2, without fans present. On Monday, horse racing officials in England announced that fans will be barred from attending races starting Tuesday. Despite warnings about gathering in large groups, attendance at last week’s Cheltenham Festival there was down only 5.5% from 2019.

The Kentucky Derby Museum, located at Churchill Downs, announced it would be temporarily closing.

As of Monday, when Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, announced the state’s ban on in-person dining at restaurants and bars, Kentucky had seen 21 confirmed coronavirus cases, with the virus contributing to the death of a 66-year-old man in Bourbon County.

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