LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The 146th Kentucky Derby, delayed four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, was, in a word, weird. Churchill Downs, packed with just over 150,000 people last year, was nearly empty this year. And those who were at the track to watch Authentic win the race looked more different than ever before. Along with the fascinators, hats, and bowties were bejeweled and bedazzled face masks.
Meanwhile, the scene outside the gates of Churchill Downs was not unprecedented — protesters have targeted the Derby before — but it hasn't been seen in decades. Central Avenue was blocked by police for much of the day and roughly an hour before the Derby, protesters arrived.
Here are the six strangest moments from a very strange Derby.
Churchill Downs bugler Steve Buttleman played the “Star Spangled Banner” prior to the day’s first race. Behind him, in what would normally be the packed infield, was a makeshift parking lot. And watching him were thousands of empty seats.
Later, he played “My Old Kentucky Home.” It was the 100th year Stephen Foster’s song has been played at the Derby, and it almost didn’t happen. Earlier this week, Churchill Downs floated the idea of cancelling the playing of the song before announcing plans to forge ahead with an instrumental version of the song.
Officially, there were no fans at this year’s Derby. Unofficially, there were hundreds of owners, trainers and their connections in the stands. Many sported the same natty attire often seen at the Derby, with the notable addition of fashionable facemasks.
The paddock and the area around it is typically one of the most packed areas at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, but not this year. While a few owners milled about the paddock, they seemed to be outnumbered by crickets, which were audibly present on Derby Day.
For once on Derby Day, the events at Churchill Downs did not feel like the most vital thing happening in Louisville. At around 1 p.m., a group of racial justice protesters in downtown Louisville were confronted by a gun-toting group of pro-police protesters.
Later, protesters gathered at a park near Churchill Downs and marched to the track. They were visbile from inside the track, but few people seemed to notice.
No crumbled betting tickets. No jubilant winners. No belligerent losers. The betting windows at Churchill Downs were largely closed Saturday, though some in the Clubhouse area were open.
The infield at Churchill Downs on Derby Day is typically a depraved scene of drunkenness and debauchery. This year it was a parking lot.