Hold Your Horses: Kentucky Derby Postponed Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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The latest victim of the coronavirus’ global sports shutdown is the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby, which is postponed until Sept. 5.

The Kentucky Oaks was also rescheduled for Sept. 4.

Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen made it clear the Kentucky Derby requires an audience.

“The Kentucky Derby is a participatory event,” he said. “Its energy and its magic really comes from everybody participating and being there to enjoy it. So we’re going to make it happen. This race has happened 145 years in a row and it’s going to happen 146.”

The only other time the race was not run on the first Saturday in May was at the end of World War II in 1945.

Kentucky Derby the top event for Churchill Downs

Running the Kentucky Derby without an audience would severely hurt Churchill Downs’ EBITDA.

Total handle on the day’s program hit a record $250.9 million last year, up 11% from 2018. The race itself had a record $165.5 million bet, up 10% from the prior year.

Churchill Downs doesn’t break out exactly how much Derby Week equates to in EBITDA for the company. But last year, Churchill Downs Racetrack saw adjusted EBITDA grow by $5.2 million in the second quarter. That was “primarily due to a successful Kentucky Derby and Oaks week driven by increased ticket sales for reserved seating, sponsorship growth, and record handle.”

Race might still be first leg of Triple Crown

Carstanjen mentioned NBC, which broadcasts the Triple Crown events, is in talks about moving the Preakness and Belmont Stakes as well.

Stronach Group‘s Maryland Jockey Club and the New York Racing Association confirmed they are in talks to postpone those races because of the coronavirus.

The Preakness is scheduled for May 16 at Pimlico in Maryland. The Belmont Stakes is scheduled for June 6 at Belmont Park.

Not the only horse racing schedule changes

While American horse racing continues without crowds, there was a bit of a shakeup for the UK announced Tuesday.

The British Horse Racing Authority announced it was canceling all races through April. That includes the Grand National scheduled for the beginning of April.

That cancelation is substantial for sportsbook operators with European exposure. GVC Holdings, Flutter and William Hill all announced expected losses based on their projections of what might be suspended.

GVC confirmed shutting down UK horse racing for one month will cost the company £20 million to £25 million in EBITDA before any mitigation measures.