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Will Kentucky Derby Have Fans? Race to Draw Biggest Attendance since COVID-19 Pandemic Began

Will Kentucky Derby Have Fans? Race to Draw Biggest
Attendance since COVID-19 Pandemic Began 1

Fans will return to Churchill Downs for the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby and, with them, a feeling of normalcy.

A year ago, the coronavirus pandemic forced organizers to postpone the Run for the Roses from its traditional slot on the first Saturday in May until September 5.

It was the race’s first postponement since 1945 and when the Derby eventually went ahead it did so in front of desolately empty stands, as racing followed in the steps of the NBA and MLB and held events behind closed doors.

Fans, however, will be back at the famous racetrack on Saturday, as the Derby reclaims its traditional role as the opening leg of the Triple Crown.

While Churchill Downs will not be at full capacity, as many as 48,000 spectators are expected to pass through the gates on race day.

“The health and safety of our entire community, including our team and our fans, is always our primary concern and we remain focused on following sound and proven health and safety protocols while working toward the best experience possible for our guests,” a statement on the Kentucky Derby’s website reads.

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To put the figure into context, the Derby recorded its biggest-ever crowd in 2015, when 170,000 fans attended the event.

However, 48,000 fans would comfortably make this year’s Derby the biggest single-day sporting event in terms of attendance since the COVID-19 outbreak first hit the U.S. in March last year.

At the time of writing, the record is held by the Texas Rangers, which hosted just over 38,000 fans at Globe Field on April 5 in their home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Rangers announced the attendance as a sell-out crowd, even though it represented 94.8 percent of Globe Field’s 40,300-seat capacity.

Prior to the Rangers’ home opener, the record for the largest attendances at sporting events in the U.S. since the pandemic began were Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and the Daytona 500.

Both events took place in February and were attended by 24,835 and just over 30,000 spectators respectively. The figures, however, were far from representing a sold out crowd as Raymond James Stadium can hold up to 75,000 fans and the Daytona International Speedway has a 101,500-seat capacity.

The Derby’s record, however, looks set to be short-lived with 135,000 fans—approximately 40 percent of the track’s unofficial capacity—set to attend the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

Last week, race organizers said they expected 60 percent of fans to have been fully vaccinated by race day and confirmed the number of fans and safety plan had both been approved by the Marion County Public Health Department.

“The city and state have worked with us to identify the appropriate health and safety precautions so that we can successfully host a limited but very enthusiastic crowd,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway Doug Boles said in a release.

“The health and safety of everyone coming to IMS, along with central Indiana and the Hoosier state, have been paramount throughout this process.”

The field heads down the backstretch during the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. Fans, albeit in limited numbers, will return to Churchill Downs on Saturday.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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