LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby is 24 days away and Churchill Downs is constantly trying to keep up and adjust plans based on what the coronavirus is doing.

What You Need To Know

  • Churchill Downs drastically reduces capacity for Derby 146

  • Infield closed for Oaks and Derby, tickets already sold will be refunded

  • Strict rules in place for those who get to attend

  • Capacity reduced for all seating areas

The historic racetrack released a comprehensive 62-page health and safety plan Wednesday and if fans thought a ticket to the Derby was hard to get before the pandemic, it will be even tougher with new capacity restrictions.

The Kentucky Derby is the longest continually-held sporting event in the United States. In 2015, when American Pharoah won the Derby, a record crowd of 170,513 spectators watched the first round of the Triple Crown of racing. Five years later, coronavirus will see Churchill Downs limit capacity to 14 percent of that record-setting crowd, allowing fewer than 23,000 people to watch Derby 146 which was rescheduled from May and will take place Sept. 5.

General admission tickets, granting admission to the 26-acre Infield, have been sold, but Wednesday, Churchill announced it will be refunding all pre-purchased General Admission tickets and will close the Infield.

Standing Room Only or "Walk Around" tickets have also been eliminated. Reserved seating will be allowed but at a maximum capacity of 40 percent. Everyone holding an outdoor ticket will be reseated in a new "comparable" location before or during the event to make sure there is enough social distancing.

Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said, “We will have fewer guests at this year’s Derby as reducing the size of the crowd is an important step to ensuring a safe environment. Medical best practices and protocols – many of which we have applied in consultation with experts both inside and outside the sports industry – will be implemented, and we’ll make adjustments all the way up to Derby Day as we find ways to improve and continue to adhere to ever-evolving best practices."

Anyone entering Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby will be subjected to temperature checks, medical questionnaires, social distancing, and everyone must wear mandatory face coverings. Churchill Downs will be giving every visitor a "Healthy at the Track" bag, which will include a disposable mask, a small hand sanitizer, and a personal stylus to help with non-contact, self-service wagering.

The opportunity to safely welcome back a limited number of guests to Churchill Downs on the first week of September is a privilege that our team doesn’t take for granted,” said Flanery. “Our extensive plan meets or exceeds all recommended state and local guidelines. We’ve received an exceptional level of support from regulators, medical experts, and public health authorities and we’ll continue to carefully work with them to ensure we’re doing everything we can to keep our customers, employees, and communities safe."

Churchill says anyone not complying with safety measures will receive a warning; repeat offenders will be removed from the property. we’re optimistic that this time-honored event, which belongs to our community and our country, will serve as a progressive unifying force that can help bring us together.”

Highlights of the Kentucky Derby 146 Plan

  • Attendance will be limited with no Standing Room Only or “Walk Around” tickets and a maximum of 40% occupancy of reserved seats.
  • There will be no general admission tickets throughout Kentucky Derby Week. Attendance will be limited to guests with reserved seats. The Infield will be closed on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days.
  • Wearing cloth face coverings will be mandatory throughout the entire venue, both indoors and outdoors, when not actively consuming food or beverage.
  • Everyone entering Churchill Downs will be screened via a medical questionnaire and a contactless thermometer. Individuals with a temperature of over 100 degrees will be prohibited from entering Churchill Downs.
  • Personal-use hand sanitizers will be provided upon entry and more than 500 hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the facility.
  • Signage will be displayed throughout the venue to encourage healthy practices and staff and security will move about the facility to monitor conditions and assist customers.
  • Access throughout the facility will be severely limited. Entry points to any seating sections beyond designated seating areas throughout the facility will be eliminated.
  • Seating with up to 40% capacity will be repositioned to provide for greater distancing.
  • Pari-mutuel tellers will be properly spaced and provided PPE for betting transactions. Guests are encouraged to wager online through TwinSpires.com, the official advance deposit wagering platform of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.
  • Options from concession stands will be limited to mostly pre-packaged foods. Plated meals and meal packages from pre-set menus will be served in other locations.
  • With the reduced capacity, guest shuttles from off-site parking locations are being eliminated and guests are encouraged to utilize neighborhood-parking options. Refunds will be made to all attending ticket holders that had offsite parking included with a reserved seat.  
  • To reduce crowding, select Kentucky Derby Week activities have been eliminated including autograph signings, concerts in the Plaza, fashion contests, Taste of Derby, the Survivors Parade, the military enlistment ceremony, and the Red Carpet.
  • The Survivor's Parade will be replaced with a video dedication.
  • Dawn at the Downs, the annual event to dine while observing morning workouts, has been moved to Monday, Aug. 31, and will be limited to guests with reserved seats; there will be no free general admission. 
  •  Key programming elements will transition to digital platforms.
  • The stable area will be restricted to essential personnel. Guests and parties in the stable area for morning workouts and during race days will be prohibited.
  • Additional protocols for Stable Area personnel and race participants (jockeys, trainers, grooms, etc.) will be finalized in the coming days.

“For those guests who plan to join us for this year’s Derby, we promise you that we will make it a wonderful experience, and most importantly, we will make it as safe and comfortable as we possibly can,” Flanery said.

 NBC will televise coverage of the Kentucky Derby and undercard racing on Sept. 5 from 2:30-7:30 p.m. ET. The 146th running of the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, Derby’s counterpart for 3-year-old fillies, will be televised Friday, Sept. 4 on NBCSN from 3-6 p.m. ET.

The complete safety operation can be seen here:

For more about Derby 146, the Kentucky Oaks, and The Kentucky Derby Festival, check out our special section dedicated to Kentucky's favorite time of the year.