Prep race will go off without fans. What does it mean for the Kentucky Derby?

Janet Patton, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Horse Racing

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Churchill Downs Inc. announced Thursday that it will run an upcoming Kentucky Derby prep race this weekend without fans in the stands amid concerns about COVID-19.

The Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park this Saturday "will be conducted spectator-free with only essential staff, horsemen, owners, limited friends and family and media in attendance. Daily simulcasting will also be closed through the remainder of the Winter/Spring Meet."

Customers who purchased tickets will receive full refunds.

But what that means for the Kentucky Derby itself, the first in Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, is still up in the air for now.

"Preparations to host Kentucky Derby 146 on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs are still moving forward," Churchill said in a statement. "With the event still seven weeks away, a decision will be made closer to that date, with respect to postponing the event until later in the year, using the most recent information while working with and seeking guidance from public health experts and authorities."

As of 4 p.m., Kentucky had reported eight confirmed of coronavirus but more are expected.

This follows news earlier in the day that at least two California racetracks, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, would be closed to the public beginning immediately. Both tracks are owned by Stronach Group, which also operates Pimlico where the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, is run.


The issue at Turfway, which was purchased last year by Churchill Downs, is the weather.

"The cold temperatures and wet conditions forecasted for Saturday would force spectators to indoor facilities at Turfway Park. Due to the large number of people expected to attend and the density of the crowd these weather conditions would create, the ability to ensure safe social distancing, per recent public health guidelines, would be compromised," the statement said. "The safety and health of guests, employees and participants remain of primary concern and the team at Turfway Park will continue to take every precaution to ensure the comfort and safety of those in attendance."

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