The decision to delay the Kentucky Derby in 2020 was not an easy one.
As the coronavirus pandemic prompted states across America to close everything from restaurants to racetracks in early March, executives with companies like Churchill Downs paid close attention. And as the spread of the virus increased in number and severity, they knew that May 2 would arrive too quickly.
While at that point there seemed to be a chance that the horses could run the Derby, there could be no spectators. It was also difficult to predict whether or not trainers, jockeys, owners, and any track employees would be able to work in preparation for the race.
Churchill Downs made the tough but necessary decision in mid-March. The 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was rescheduled for September 5.
However, to keep fans engaged and to provide something for them on Derby Day, Churchill Downs today announced a virtual party and race, all for charity.
Virtual Derby: May 2, 3pm-6pm EDT
NBC will broadcast it. The time slot was already reserved for the Kentucky Derby. NBC will announce the exact broadcast lineup next week, but there are several features to be included in the broadcast.
One feature will be a rebroadcast of the 2015 Kentucky Derby, which was the starting point for that year’s Triple Crown victory by American Pharaoh.
The main event will be the first-ever virtual horse race by Churchill Downs called the “Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown.” It will be a computer-simulated version of a race that features the 13 Triple Crown winners in the history of the sport. Using algorithms that include the historical handicapping information about each horse, those 13 horses will race…virtually.
Inspired Entertainment is creating the computer-simulated race, complete with the backdrop of the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.
Fan Participation Begins April 30
The event is offering an opportunity for fans to participate in predicting the outcome on the race – placing a bet, in a way – online at KentuckyDerby.com. There is no investment required to choose their favorite horse to win the race.
Every participant will be entered into a drawing to win the “ultimate Kentucky Derby 146 VIP Experience.” This prize package will bring the winner to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby when it actually runs in September, and many other perks will be included as well.
Meanwhile, anyone who logs on to the website beginning on April 30 to choose a winner may make a charitable donation on the site to COVID-19 emergency relief efforts.
The Team Kentucky Fund and Direct Relief will be the primary beneficiaries, along with a small percentage of funds going to the REIN Fund (Relief for Equine Industry Needs). The latter is managed by the Churchill Downs Foundation to aid workers on the backside who’ve cared for horses during the shutdown but have also been financially impacted.
Churchill Downs will match up to $1 million of donations.
Derby Day on May 2 will offer numerous ways for fans to be involved online. There will be free virtual tours of the Kentucky Derby Museum and others. There will be Derby cocktail instructional segments, crafts and fascinator-making instructions, and even an at-home fashion contest.
Before the race, everyone will be able to virtually participate in a toast and then sing along with My Old Kentucky Home.
As exact times for various videos and participatory activities are set in the coming days, the website will provide more details.
Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery hopes that people who reserve the first Saturday in May for Derby excitement will participate online and by watching the NBC programming, especially the virtual race.
Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said the most important part of the plan for the day is the charity aspect of it. “We are proud to use this platform as a force for good by raising money for these worthy COVID-19 emergency initiatives.”