This is only the second time since WWII that the horse race has been rescheduled from the first Saturday in May in the event's 145-year history. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo
March 17 (UPI) -- Churchill Downs on Tuesday rescheduled the Kentucky Derby from May 2 to Sept. 5, over Labor Day weekend, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is only the second time in the 145-year history of the event, the first being at the end of World War II, that Derby Day has been moved from the first Saturday in May.
Churchill Downs announced the schedule change Tuesday at a news conference in Louisville, Ky.
"Throughout the rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic, our first priority has been how to best protect the safety and health of our guests, team members and community," Churchill Downs Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bill Carstanjen said.
"As the situation evolved, we steadily made all necessary operational adjustments to provide the safest experience and environment," Carstanjen said.
Churchill Downs did not provide details on revised qualification procedures for the races. The announcement also left pending the status of the 2020 Triple Crown, which was scheduled to continue with the Preakness Stakes on May 16 at Pimlico in Baltimore and the Belmont Stakes, three weeks later at Belmont Park in New York.
While some tracks around the world have closed to prevent the spread of the corona virus that causes COVID-19, many have opted to run their races without fans in attendance, relying on internet wagering to keep the sport's economics moving.
Churchill Downs said earlier the iconic nature of the Derby and its place in the social structure of Kentucky made that choice unacceptable.
The track did not cancel the rest of its spring racing, set to run from April 25 through June 27, and said the status of the other important stakes races that normally surround the Derby has yet to be determined.
Carstanjen said NBC-TV, which provides coverage of the Triple Crown races, was involved in the decision and will fit the new date into its broadcast schedule.
Also on the horse racing front related to the pandemic, Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington has canceled its spring meeting, which was set to run April 2 to 24.
British racing joined its European counterparts in shutting down operations. The British Horseracing Authority said its suspension will run through April with the dates "kept under constant review."
The BMW Hong Kong Derby will be run Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse without fans in the stands.
Hong Kong racing, beset earlier in its season by street riots, has been running without spectators for nearly two months, but restrictions were eased narrowly this month for off-track wagering.
The Dubai World Cup, one of the world's richest and most prestigious race days, will be conducted March 28 without fans in the massive Meydan Racecourse grandstand.
No wagering is permitted in Dubai. so sales of hospitality packages for the big day normally are the main source of revenue for the heavily subsidized racing program.