With less than three months to the rescheduled 2020 Kentucky Derby on September 5, a key question is whether the race will be run?  The answer is almost certainly affirmative because the wagering would be huge even if it came exclusively via internet and phone.  The speculative question is whether fans will be in attendance at the racetrack.

About a month ago, Churchill Downs released an understandably vague statement that read in part:

“Our team relishes the challenge of the September Derby and is deeply committed to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever and certainly the most unique in any of our lifetimes.  September 5 is still 4 months away.  A lot can happen in our country, and I expect that it will.  We will adjust and respond to whatever the circumstances and will work tirelessly with state and local officials to develop any and all necessary protocols and procedures to make our event a safe and responsible spectator event.”

A respected poll recently found that 66% of the American public intends to avoid crowds.  This will have to change dramatically for events like the Indianapolis 500 in late August and the Kentucky Derby in early September to attract a typically large crowd, even if the events go off as planned.  An effective vaccine could be the catalyst for reducing much of the fear of large crowds, but the most optimistic estimate I’ve seen for a vaccine is mid-to-late fall.

The view here is that the health after effects of the recent crowd gatherings over incidents of police brutality in the United States will provide an early quantitative fact-based indicator of whether a September Kentucky Derby, with on-track fans, will be feasible.  Health officials expressed concerns about the protest crowds spreading the coronavirus.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious diseases expert, said: “It’s a perfect set-up for further spread of the virus in terms of creating some blips that could turn into some surges.  There certainly is a risk.”

Ominously, multiple soldiers from the D.C. National Guard have already tested positive for Covid 19 after assisting the police with crowd control during protests and looting.

If coronavirus cases markedly spike, especially among people who attended the protests, that would obviously be a very negative sign for holding a Kentucky Derby with fans in attendance.  On the other hand, if pandemic cases do not spike, the chances improve for a Derby with on-track spectators. 

Unfortunately, Johns Hopkins University’s tally of five-day moving averages of the number of new coronavirus cases already shows Arizona, California, Texas, and other states experiencing a rise in confirmed cases as they lift restrictions intended to slow the virus. This certainly does not bode well for fans in the stands at fall 2020 sporting events.

It seems logical that if the Kentucky Derby can’t proceed with on-track fans in September, then neither can other sporting events like college and NFL football. 

As the summer of 2020 continues, Horse Racing Business will have at least one more assessment of the chances for a Kentucky Derby with fans at the track.

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