After running its 2020 edition in September due to the coronavirus, the Kentucky Derby will be back to its normal date in early May for 2021. But, organizers are planning for coronavirus-related restrictions to be in place for that time span, and are therefore limiting ticket sales to between 40 and 50 percent of the capacity of Churchill Downs.
The plan was outlined by Churchill CEO Bill Carstanjen on a conference call Thursday discussing the company’s earnings in the third quarter. No restrictions for next May’s event are currently finalized, but the company is opting against making general admission tickets available at this time and is restricting reserved seats assuming a reduced capacity until “we can again model the future with more certainty.”
Horse racing’s triple crown was thrown into chaos by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The Kentucky Derby was postponed for the first time in 75 years due to the pandemic, pushed from its normal first Saturday in May running to the fall by mid-March. Hopes remained that fans would be able to enjoy the event into the summer, but those plans began to crumble as the resurgence of virus spread ramped up in July. Infield sales were paused that month, with fan attendance scrapped entirely by August.
With the Derby (as well as fellow triple crown fixtures the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes) run without fans in 2020, operators lost millions of dollars in planned revenue. While restrictions on live event attendance are expected to last well into 2021 (or beyond, depending on who you ask), event organizers are increasingly optimistic that some number of fans will be allowed for events as treatments and safe operational standards are continually developed by scientists and venue operators.