Live racing to resume at Churchill Downs without fans

Live racing to resume at Churchill Downs without fans
Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack.
Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. (Source: Dale Mader, WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As Kentucky begins its reopening process, a big move comes Saturday as live racing resumes at Churchill Downs. The 2020 Spring Meet will look and sound very different at the track because there won’t be any fans, owners or media for now.

“We’re excited about opening up this weekend and having races on the track underneath the Twin Spires,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “We’re so happy to have the horseman back.”

After being delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 Spring Meet opens at Churchill Downs on May 16.
After being delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 Spring Meet opens at Churchill Downs on May 16. (Source: Dale Mader, WAVE 3 News)

A big part of what Kentucky is known for is inching back into the saddle, but with no race fans a much more quiet Churchill Downs will take some getting used to. Trainers Brad Cox and Tom Amoss won races at other tracks without fans. Cox said it was great winning the Louisiana Derby with Wells Bayou but said having no spectators was strange.

"It was odd," said Cox, who will also saddle 2018 Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl on Saturday, "I mean, to say the least it was different an eerie feel, to be honest with you."

There will no fans in the stands for the opening of the 2020 Spring Meet which trainers say is a plus because they don't have to get their horses used to crowds.
There will no fans in the stands for the opening of the 2020 Spring Meet which trainers say is a plus because they don't have to get their horses used to crowds. (Source: Charles Gazaway, WAVE 3 News)

Amoss who won recently again with 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress also said it's great to win but sad no one is there to enjoy it.

"There's something about being there and seeing a horse run that stays in a fan’s mind," Amoss said. "I'm looking forward to the (spring) meet , I'm disappointed we are not going to have fans, but I'm certainly feeling like right now, we are doing all the right things."

Amoss, whose father passed away from coronavirus complications, said he appreciates Churchill opening the track for training with serious safety measures.

"The protocols to get into the racetrack are extraordinary and very efficient," Amoss said.

Everyone on the backside must be an essential worker wearing a mask. Flanery said of the protocols,

"The first time they come they actually have COVID-19 testing to see whether or not they are negative or positive," Flanery said of the protocols. "Thereafter, every time you come into the track, or if you live at the track every day, you get your temperature taken and answer a series of questions, just to sort of see that things are going smoothly."

A plus for trainers is they don't have to get their horses used to crowds. As for fans, even though they can't be at the track, betting fans will see bigger fields and good competition. Flanery said Sunday's card has 101 trainers and 49 jockeys.

"The races are going to be great for the bettor," Amoss added. "They're going to offer value, big fields a lot of opportunities to take advantage of nice odds on a horse that has a big chance to win."

The following Saturday, May 23, includes the $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds, the first race in the Extended Road to the Kentucky Derby Series. All races are live on FS1 and FS2.

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