Churchill Downs officials announced Thursday that the 146th Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks will run with a limited and yet unspecified number of spectators, a decision made in consultation with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and state public health officials.

Kentucky Derby With Fans
As these two fans from the 2013 Kentucky Derby illustrate, the Derby infield brings out a smorgasbord of party-goers. While fans are allowed inside this year’s Derby, don’t expect the same raucous infield crowds you see at a typical Derby. (Image: Jamey Price/Getty)

In so doing, Churchill Downs is trying to make a concerted effort to balance health risks with a fervent desire to keep some semblance of ambiance at one of America’s signature sporting events. Emphasis on the word “events.” From the parties to the mint juleps to the hats, the Kentucky Derby is as much about the atmosphere as it is about racing, which explains typical Derby crowds upwards of 160,000 people.

Not this year. Not in the COVID-19 era.

“The impact of the Kentucky Derby extends well beyond the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs,” Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said in a statement. “It is an incredibly important time for the City of Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky … culturally, economically, and with respect to our time-honored traditions. Both employees and guests are asked to take an active role in following all guidelines.”

Access, Attendance Limited Across the Board

Those guidelines came about after consultation with the Louisville Metro Health Department, and are in keeping with the state’s Healthy at Work guidelines. The guidelines include venue capacity restrictions limiting crowd density throughout the track, including access to general admission, reserved seating, premium dining, and suites.

Other guidelines include:

  • Limiting general admission tickets and restricting access only to the infield
  • Reducing the number of credentials for employees, media, and guests
  • Restricting barn-area to essential personnel only
  • Minimizing person-to-person contact at every avenue
  • A revised Fan Code of Conduct establishing behavior expectations for Derby guests, including the wearing of masks at all times except when seated in their reserved seat or venue, frequently washing hands for 20 seconds, and socially distancing from others.

The racetrack’s website will post further updates in the coming days.

Agreeing to Spectators was a Group Effort

“We truly appreciate the leadership of the Governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, and all of the hard work, collaboration and guidance that state and local officials and public health experts have provided us to safely and responsibly host Kentucky Derby Week in September with spectators,” Flanery said. “Our team is deeply committed to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever, and we will take all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of all who attend and participate in the Derby.”

Kentucky Derby Week begins Sept. 1 and runs through Derby Day on Sept. 5. The 20-horse field remains in flux given the 10 Derby preps remaining on the calendar. Belmont Stakes champion Tiz the Law sits as your current +275 futures favorite at Circa Sports and +250 favorite at William Hill-Nevada.

Tiz the Law won the Belmont Stakes in front of an empty grandstand last Saturday.


  1. Let me understand, ok to have fans for derby but not del mar, arlington etc.
    This reminds me of the term selective justice.
    Kentucky could careless if the fans and tracks are crapped on, just don’t mess with our precious derby.