'More Than Cautiously Optimistic': Churchill CEO Making Plans For Fan Presence At September Derby - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

‘More Than Cautiously Optimistic’: Churchill CEO Making Plans For Fan Presence At September Derby

Will fans be able to attend the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby in 2020?

On the heels of yesterday's announcement that horsemen will be allowed on the backside of Churchill Downs on May 11, CEO Bill Carstanjen is now hoping that the track will be able to have fans attend the re-scheduled Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in September.

“There's still going to be social distancing issues,” Carstanjen said in a teleconference with investors and analysts the morning of April 30. “Whatever's capable of being done in this country in four months, whatever can be done, whatever is the maximum acceptable processes and protocols, that's where we'll be. That's what we'll be offering and that's what we'll do. So I'm fairly optimistic. I'm more than cautiously optimistic. I am optimistic that we'll find a way through this.”

Churchill has been working in close concert with Kentucky's Governor Andy Beshear and local health officials to develop appropriate protocols in the wake of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, and Carstanjen hopes those efforts will lead to a return of live racing, without spectators, sometime in May.

“It was really gratifying to work directly with Gov. Beshear on the protocols to open Churchill Downs racetrack,” said Carstanjen. “If you've seen some of his commentary, he was fairly complimentary of us with respect to the comprehensiveness and the complexity of our processes to keep everybody safe that comes on our property. And that's what you can expect from us going forward.”

With four months until the Kentucky Derby, Carstanjen is also hopeful that restrictions will have relaxed enough to allow fans to attend the Run for the Roses. It may not look the same as a traditional Derby scene for the fans, he warned, but the track plans to do everything in its power to make fan attendance possible.

“We're not like a football stadium in the sense that not everyone is sitting shoulder to shoulder in a bowl or one after another in lines of people,” Carstanjen explained. “Our facility is well more than a million square feet and features a variety of different environments. We have environments similar to high-end restaurants, a festival-type atmosphere in the infield, and we also have some stadium seats. But generally you see a variety of different environments and so the protocols for each of those will be different.”

“With our customers, I've been particularly humbled by the level of commitment to our event. Our customers remain excited. We offered refunds and the percentage of folks pursuing refunds certainly was less than I expected,” Carstanjen continued. “There's still a great deal of excitement in our community and among our customers—wherever they come from–in our event. I think there's an expectation on their part that we'll work through whatever challenges in order to offer them an experience as close as possible to what they normally expect.”

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