US RACING: Churchill Downs triples handle without spectators

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A statue of Barbaro is silhouetted at the entrance of Churchill Downs, Wednesday, May 6, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. The Kentucky Derby has been postponed until Sept. 5 because of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack, said Saturday that races without spectators under the Twin Spires are “something we’ll be talking about for generations.”

While the few people necessary to have on site are hearing horses and hoofbeats — and just about only that — handle numbers evidenced a sizable audience taking in the races from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to track publicity, US$14,278,726 was bet into opening Saturday’s 11-race card, up 183.7 per cent from the US$5,032,253 handled on the comparable date in 2019.

That was even with some fields diminished in size after overnight showers washed opening day off the turf, and without the presence of a stakes feature.

“It’s unprecedented to be racing without fans, but things are going very smoothly,” Flanery said. “I want to thank the horsemen and everybody for their cooperation. Everybody’s trying to do the right thing, and that’s going to make it successful.”

Churchill Downs races again Sunday — all post times at the meet are 1:00 pm ET — then continues on a Thursday through Sunday basis until June 27.

“Without fans, it’s pretty flat,” said Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who ran horses at Oaklawn Park since the pandemic forced racing to go behind closed doors.