Corona Postpones Kentucky Derby

Corona Quiets The Ponies: Impact on Kentucky Derby and Louisville

This post is the second in a series of blogs about the implications of the coronavirus pandemic on certain cities that have special significance in the world of sports. This week we focus on Louisville, Kentucky.

The Party (Usually) Begins

This Saturday would normally be the time of year when dapper folks around the country would break out the bowties, get the sundresses out from the back of the closet, and sport the finest, big bonnet hats $15 at T.J. Maxx can buy. That’s because the first Saturday in May is when we usually celebrate the Kentucky Derby. For most people, the first leg of horse racing’s hallowed Triple Crown is considered The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports – and, the first real celebration of warm weather and day drinking to kick off the summer season. For Louisville natives, however, the race and the circus of events leading up to it are really the greatest two weeks in Kentucky.

The Party Brings Profits

Horse racing itself is a big business. But when it brings one of the biggest parties in America along with it, everyone gets in on the fun. The Kentucky Derby is the largest economic event in the state, bringing thousands of tourists to Kentucky’s biggest city every May. Louisville shop owners often claim, “As the horses run, so does the economy.” (Ok, no one can confirm this, but take our word for it.) The greater Louisville region hosts two weeks of events leading up to the race every year, an annual tradition know as the Kentucky Derby Festival. The festivities kick off at the end of April with Thunder Over Louisville, which features an air show and America’s largest fireworks display to entertain visitors lining both the Ohio and Kentucky banks of the Ohio River. Guests are treated to all of the food, entertainment, and Southern hospitality the region has to offer with more than 60 events between the “opening ceremonies” and the start of the Kentucky Derby program itself.

Breaking Down the Numbers

So just how big is the Kentucky Derby for the greater Louisville region? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

  • The full Kentucky Derby season was projected to drive an overall impact of more than $410 million for Louisville this year, up nearly 10% after bringing in $373 million in 2019.
  • The Kentucky Derby and Longines Kentucky Oaks race programs themselves were projected to drive $394.4 million in revenue to the Louisville area, an increase of more than 10% from 2019 revenue totals.
  • Thunder Over Louisville was projected to contribute $16 million in direct economic impact with anticipated crowds of 725,000 visitors this year.
  • 150,000 people on average attend Churchill Downs for the Derby race program every year.
  • $165.5 million was wagered on the Kentucky Derby in 2019, shattering the previous record of $149.9 million set in 2018.

The Good, The Bad, and The Lucky

The good news is that Derby officials and festival organizers haven’t canceled the race and events – they have simply pushed the festivities back to August and race day to September 5. The bad news is that only time will tell whether restrictions on social gatherings will lighten up – or even be lifted – in time for Kentuckians to celebrate their finest hour. Horse racing fans need to wish for all the luck they can get in order to make sure this race still happens.

Fun Fact

Natives of Louisville are referred to as “Louisvillians.” However, they may only be considered real villains to UK fans!

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Written by John Hayes