It's official: A 'most unique' 2020 Kentucky Derby date

It's official: A 'most unique' 2020 Kentucky Derby date
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The 2020 Kentucky Derby will run on the first Saturday in September, not May.

Churchill Downs announced the news Tuesday morning amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has rocked the sporting world and beyond, with a new strain of coronavirus leading to a postponement of most major international events accompanied by a large crowd.

Attendance for the Derby peaked in 2015 at 170,513 and the record is 124,589 in 2016 for the Kentucky Oaks, the premier race for 3-year-old fillies moving to Friday, Sept. 4. The Derby will follow on Sept. 5.

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"Certainly things can change over time," said Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen, "but this was a very thoughtful, carefully considered plan that we're implementing, and we feel really good about it, and we feel really confident about it.

"We also feel confident that we are going to run the Kentucky Derby, and we are going to run it with a crowd. The Kentucky Derby is a participatory event. Its energy and its magic really comes from everybody participating and being there to enjoy it.

"So we're going to make it happen. This race has happened 145 years in a row. It's going to happen 146. We'll roll with the punches, but we feel very, very good that September's the right date."

Tickets already purchased for the Derby when scheduled for May 2 will be honored on the new date. Should ticket holders not be able to attend in September, Churchill Downs will release more information this week about how to obtain a refund. Churchill is not responsible for refunds through secondary market vendors.

Other details provided in a teleconference Tuesday with Churchill Downs officials:

 Carstanjen said the new Derby date is "based on the limited number of other sports running that weekend," local hotel availability and arrangements with NBC.

 The rest of Derby week races have yet been determined, but plans are to replicate the Tuesday through Saturday schedule that normally would occur in the spring.

 Carstanjen said efforts are underway to move the other two legs of the Triple Crown, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, to match the regular timeline of spring classics. That would mean a Sept. 19 Preakness and Oct. 10 Belmont.

 Existing stakes races over the summer for 3-year-olds will be added to the Derby points schedule, Carstanjen said. Those are to be announced. Points earned on the current leaderboard will still apply.

 Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said the track's spring meet status is still pending.

The Kentucky Derby has renewed on the first Saturday in May each year since 1946. In 1945 a June 9 running was necessitated due to the end of World War II.

“Throughout the rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic, our first priority has been how to best protect the safety and health of our guests, team members and community," Carstanjen said in a statement. "As the situation evolved, we steadily made all necessary operational adjustments to provide the safest experience and environment. The most recent developments have led us to make some very difficult but, we believe, necessary decisions, and our hearts are with those who have been or continue to be affected by this pandemic.  

"Our team is united in our commitment to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever and certainly the most unique in any of our lifetimes. While we are always respectful of the time-honored traditions of the Kentucky Derby, our company’s true legacy is one of resilience, the embracing of change and unshakable resolve."

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