Crowd of 45,000 expected at Kentucky Derby as horse racing’s Triple Crown returns to Louisville


The Kentucky Derby returns! 45,000 race-goers in VERY colorful outfits (and matching mandatory face masks) head to a sun-drenched Churchill Downs eight months after it was run without spectators

  • The Kentucky Derby returns to its traditional spot on the calendar – the first Saturday in May
  • After being disrupted by a pandemic, the event is back with many of its traditions intact 
  • The 147th edition comes less than eight months after it was run without spectators last September 
  • Some 45,000 are expected to attend, 100,000 less than usual, and there are safety protocols in place

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The bourbon is flowing again, flowery hats and humans are on the scene and 19 horses are ready to run the most chaotic race of their lives. After being disrupted by a pandemic, the Kentucky Derby is back with many of its traditions intact.

America’s longest continuously held sporting event returns to its traditional spot on the calendar – the first Saturday in May. 

The 147th edition comes less than eight months after it was run without spectators last September because of COVID-19, making it the shortest time between Derbies in history.

‘I was hoping to enjoy my Derby win a little longer,’ joked trainer Bob Baffert, who earned his sixth last year with Authentic.

The eerie silence that settled over Churchill Downs last year when no spectators were allowed is being replaced by attendance of about 45,000 – some 100,000 less than usual. Masks are required. Food and drinks are all-inclusive to lessen long lines and separate payments for every transaction.

With the Derby restored to its usual day, last year’s upside down Triple Crown has been righted. The Preakness follows on May 15 and the Belmont, which kicked off the series a year ago, concludes it on June 5. 

A woman wears a flashy green and pink hat with flowers to the 147th Kentucky Derby at Louisville, Kentucky 

One woman takes a picture with her cellphone as she dons a pink, feathery hat as she attends the Kentucky Oaks race at Churchill Downs

One woman takes a picture with her cellphone as she dons a pink, feathery hat as she attends the Kentucky Oaks race at Churchill Downs

An attendee at the Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky wears a horse-themed hat

An attendee at the Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky wears a horse-themed hat 

A racegoer at the 147th Kentucky Derby wears a matching mask featuring a lipstick mark to go with her red and black outfit

 A racegoer at the 147th Kentucky Derby wears a matching mask featuring a lipstick mark to go with her red and black outfit 

Essential Quality, trained by Brad Cox, was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/4-mile race for 3-year-olds. Post time is 6:57pm ET.  

A son of Tapit, Essential Quality made it 5-for-5 in his career when he won the Blue Grass Stakes by a neck on April 3.

Luis Saez will ride Essential Quality, who will break from the No. 14 post position. Cox also will send 15-1 Mandaloun to the No. 7 post under jockey Florent Geroux.

Cox, in his first Derby, will try to become the first Louisville native to win the 147th Run for the Roses.  

Essential Quality is owned and bred by Godolphin Racing, the stable of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, who is 0-for-11 in his decades-long quest to win America’s greatest race. 

A victory by Essential Quality would bring extra scrutiny of human rights issues involving the sheikh, who won’t be among the limited fans in attendance.

Attendees will be required to wear mask to enter Churchill Downs for the  147th Kentucky Derby due to COVID concerns

Attendees will be required to wear mask to enter Churchill Downs for the  147th Kentucky Derby due to COVID concerns 

A woman accessorizes her flowery hat with a matching pink mas and pink tinted shades at Churchill Downs for the 147th Kentucky Derby

A woman accessorizes her flowery hat with a matching pink mas and pink tinted shades at Churchill Downs for the 147th Kentucky Derby 

Attendees in their best outfits form a line as they make their way to enter Churchill Downs on Saturday for the 147th Kentucky Derby

Attendees in their best outfits form a line as they make their way to enter Churchill Downs on Saturday for the 147th Kentucky Derby 

Horse race fans pose for the cameras as they sport marching horse-themed outfits  at Churchill Downs on Friday

Horse race fans pose for the cameras as they sport marching horse-themed outfits  at Churchill Downs on Friday

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission received a complaint this week from a group of human rights attorneys and students at the University of Louisville seeking to have Sheikh Mohammed banned from the Derby over alleged human rights abuses. A judge in England ruled that he orchestrated the abductions of two of his adult daughters.

Essential Quality’s jockey, Luis Saez, is seeking his first Derby win after crossing the finish line first aboard Maximum Security in 2019 only to have his colt disqualified.

‘Essential Quality is a deserving favorite,’ trainer Todd Pletcher said, ‘but I think it’s a wide-open race.’

Pletcher, a two-time Derby winner, saddles four starters, led by 6-1 shot Known Agenda. His others are listed at double-digit odds: 20-1 Dynamic One, 30-1 Bourbonic and 50-1 Sainthood.

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