CDI Says No Live Audience Allowed for Kentucky Derby Festival

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) has confirmed that the event will go on without any live audience. The news reverses a previous plan to host around 23,000 guests for the Kentucky Derby Race program.

Kentucky Derby to Go on Without Live Audience

The biggest horseracing event in the United States is about to get underway. Yet, a few last-minute details have had to be smoothed out.

While Churchill Downs, the racetrack and company hosting the event, expected to allow some 23,000 horse racing enthusiasts to enter the premises, the event will now move to a behind-closed-doors format.

The event is one of the most significant on the calendar, and the accompanying festivities generate a massive interest on the part of attendees. In 2019, the company set a new record, gathering 150,000 people on site.

The estimated total placed in sports betting wagers in 2019 amounted to $165.5 million on the race alone. Now, however, the event will have to adapt to no audience setup, announced shorly before the start date on September 5.

Originally, the Kentucky Derby was supposed to be held in May, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to do so. At the time, the hosts from Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) argued that the 146th Kentucky Derby would feature live audiences, but be held later in the year.

CDI Apologizes, Safety Comes First

Yet, even the reduced crowd could prove too much of a risk. The original idea to allow 40% occupancy has been scrapped and CDI had to release a statement that has, admittedly, disappointed fans.

“Churchill Downs and all of our team members feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility as citizens of Louisville to do all we responsibly can to protect the health, safety and security of our community in these challenging times and believe that running the Derby without spectators is the best way to do that.”

The no attendance policy will also extend to the Kentucky Oaks held on Friday, September 4, a day before the Kentucky Derby itself. The CDI is now in the process of refunding ticket holders for all Derby week events, including Dawn at the Downs.

In terms of sports betting handle, the event is definitely one of the biggest. Last year, the Kentucky Derby Race program managed to collect $250.9 million in total wagers, up by $25 million from 2018 when the total amount placed was $225.7 million.

While the May event was scrapped completely, CDI teamed up with Inspired Entertainment to host a virtual event featuring a simulated race on May 2. The event collected a fair bit of audience, with some 1.7 million people tuning in to watch.

The online format of the event may be beneficial to the total sports betting handle generated, especially with the United States now allowing sports betting in close to 20 states.

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