100 days until Kentucky Derby 147?
By David Mattingly | January 21, 2021 at 5:20 PM EST - Updated January 21 at 6:58 PM
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Churchill Downs on Thursday launched a countdown of 100 days to the 2021 Kentucky Derby by releasing a promotional video.
The video invokes memories of happier times before COVID-19, with images of crowds full of brightly-colored hats and cold Mint Juleps.
After a year of unprecedented disruptions, the video heralds the Derby’s return to its traditional place on the calendar, the first weekend in May.
But the actual fan experience will not look the same as what’s seen in the video.
“By no means do we plan on our Derby of being a crowd full of people hugging maskless as it is depicted in the video at certain parts,” Churchill Downs Vice President of Corporate Communications Tonya Abelin said. “But we just wanted to generate some excitement, some hope and some energy leading through the next 100 days.”
Abelin said COVID restrictions will still be in place for the 2021 Derby.
General admission tickets are not being sold and capacity will be capped at 40 to 50 percent.
“One thing that we learned last year is instead of making plans based on the best of hope,” Abelin said, “it’s safer to make plans based on the realities of right now.”
The announcement was enthusiastically received by patrons across the street from Churchill Downs at Wagner’s, where social distancing still limits business and keeps tables empty.
“I think that’s what we need,” General Manager Lee Wagner said. “And I’m happy that Churchill is promoting this so everyone knows it’s 100 days out.”
Wagner said sales in 2020 at the Louisville Landmark were off by more than 50 percent, adding that he believes the city needs the return of some normalcy.
“I think it will be a good shot in the arm for Louisville, for morale, for everybody,” Wagner said.
The message Churchill is sending is also apparently being received by distant fans. When COVID hit, many who were planning to stay at the Omni hotel last year moved their reservations to 2021. Management there said the phone is already ringing.
“As Churchill has made these announcements, and we’re moving forward a little bit,” Omni Sales and Marketing Director Eamon O’Brien said, “they say, ‘OK I can come safely, I can get tickets to Churchill Downs, have an experience in Louisville, do it in a socially-distanced way and go there, stay at a hotel in town.’”
Much like last year, all plans are still subject to change depending on what happens with the virus.
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