After months of trying to figure out the specifics of an event delayed by a global pandemic, the leaders at Churchill Downs have had their tentative plan to host the 2020 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks approved by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.
“Churchill Downs submitted a comprehensive plan to state government that ensures that the Kentucky Derby will look very different this year,” Beshear said in an emailed statement. “The changes made to this year’s derby will help to protect the health and safety of every Kentuckian, which is my main priority.”
The plan, which was obtained in full by Horse Racing Nation in an open records request, includes some major changes for the event, including major limits on capacity.
While the plan does not include concrete attendance numbers, however, it did say that the formula used by the Kentucky Kingdom theme park in its reopening, allocating 36 square feet per person was “reviewed and considered.”
The proposal says that general admission seating will be reduced by 61% and outdoor reserved seating by 57%. Some dining areas will have their capacity reduced by “up to 33%.”
The Kentucky Kingdom model allows for infield attendance of 24,063 fans. There will be no general admission in the paddock or front side.
For food and drink, several changes will be made in the interest of safety. For starters, all staff will wear gloves and change them frequently and more hand sinks will be available for hand washing.
Bottled drinks will not be opened by employees, and cocktails will be served in cups with a lids and wrapped straws. There will be no refills of already used cups.
In premium dining areas, such as the Turf Club, Oaks Room and Luxury Trackside Club, additional precautions will be taken, including serving condiments in individual packets and personal protective equipment for servers.
Fans will not be required to wear masks, although they will be “consistently and frequently encouraged,” to do so.
Kentucky’s commissioner for the Department of Public Health, Dr. Steven Stack, encouraged all attendees to continue to socially distance, even on the grounds of Churchill Downs.
“At any mass gathering permitted under Healthy at Work guidelines, it is essential that all participants maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all persons outside of their household,” Stack said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, people should wash or sanitize their hands frequently and stay away from the gathering if they have fever or other signs of acute illness. Persons over 65 years of age and/or with chronic medical problems are at higher risk for serious harm from COVID-19 and should avoid all mass gatherings and remain Healthy at Home.”
Another area where fans in attendance will see changes to the norms is gambling. There will be extra precautions taken to comply with social distancing for tellers and fans will be encouraged to use online gambling platforms on their phones.
If a fan tests postive and other attendees need to be notified, they will be contacted through the phone number and email address that is on file. If contacted, fans will be told that they need to go to the doctor or health department to be tested.
The plan is tentative and subject to change with public health and safety recommendations.
In a letter sent to the governor accompanying the plan and obtained by Horse Racing Nation, Bill Carstanjen, Churchill Downs Inc.’s chief executive office, expressed hopefulness that the plan would be approved.
“Our plan considers the same guidelines and community standards your team has relied upon in determining when and under what conditions the various sectors of Kentucky’s economy may phase back in to normal activity,” Carstanjen said. “It often employs more stringent standards, but never less.”