Churchill Downs will miss the pomp and circumstance that would typically descend on the iconic grounds for the Kentucky Derby, but the racetrack will instead host its first-ever virtual run for the roses to support coronavirus relief efforts.
The annual event on the first Saturday in May was postponed until Sept. 5 due to concerns of coronavirus, so the track came up with a computer-simulated race and nationwide at-home Derby party to help raise money for COVID-19 emergency relief funds.
Thirteen past Triple Crown winners will face off in a virtual race under the historic Twin Spires for "The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown" on NBC. The computer-simulated version of the fastest two minutes in sports will "use data algorithms including historical handicapping information about each horse, which helps to determine the probability of their potential finishing positions."
Fans can pick a favorite horse to win the virtual race online and make a charitable donation to COVID-19 relief efforts. Anyone who selects the winning horse will be entered for a chance to win the ultimate Kentucky Derby 146 VIP Experience.
"Churchill Downs has pledged to match up to $1 million of donations with funds to be directed to the Team Kentucky Fund and Direct Relief," according to a press release. "A small percentage will be earmarked for the R.E.I.N. Fund (Relief for Equine Industry Needs), a program managed by Churchill Downs Foundation designed to benefit workers of the backside whose livelihood has been impacted by COVID-19 and also to help ensure essential care for horses throughout the pandemic."
Tonya Abeln, vice president of corporate communications for Churchill Downs, told ABC News that the only other time the Derby has been delayed or ran at a later date was in 1945 at the end of World War II.
"As an iconic American tradition, what that tells us is that our country has faced and overcome trying times in the past," Abeln said. "This event is a reflection of the resilience of our country. We will adjust, we will adapt and we endure."
"We thought it was important to our fans to give them a reason to celebrate, but we also knew we could count on our loyal fans to rise to the occasion and donate toward these COVID-19 efforts and create an opportunity for the first Saturday in May to stand for something even greater than we ever thought possible."
"We are proud to use this platform as a force for good by raising money for these worthy COVID-19 emergency initiatives," Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated, said. "We urge fans to join us by donating and celebrating with us from home."
This year's interactive party hosted by Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum encourages fans to wear fancy suits and dresses and drink mint juleps to celebrate Derby Day at home.
"Even if you don’t go to Churchill Downs to watch the race in person, people throw parties and wear hats and make mint juleps. It is an incredible source of pride for Kentuckians, but it also signifies a time-honored American tradition," Abeln added.
If you want to brush up on your mixology skills to sip on the spectator favorite cocktail at home this weekend, check out the recipe for the Official Mint Julep of Churchill Downs from Woodford Reserve.
2 ounces bourbon
2 bar spoons of honey sweetener
2 fresh mint leaves
Shaved honeycomb and a sprig of mint for garnish
Rub the mint around the inside of the julep cup, to express the essential oils and place the mint leaf in the bottom of the cup.
Drizzle two bar spoons of honey sweetener in the cup, followed by two ounces of bourbon, mixing the ingredients together.
Pack crushed ice into the cup, followed by placing the sipping straw.
Layer loose ice on top, with a splash of bourbon to settle the drink.
Garnish with shaved honeycomb and a sprig of mint.
Other online festivities from Churchill Downs include DIY fascinator-making with full instructions on the blog here, ideas for party decor, kids' crafts, Derby-inspired recipes and even an at-home Derby fashion contest.
People around the country can join the virtual party and share their own home Derby Party experience using #KyDerbyAtHome on Saturday, May 2, and follow @KentuckyDerby on social media.
As for the belated race day in September, Abeln said, "A lot can happen in our country and I expect it will. We will adjust and respond to whatever the circumstances and will work tirelessly with State and local officials to develop any and all necessary protocols and procedures to make our event a safe and responsible spectator event."
She added that Churchill Downs is "deeply committed to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever and certainly the most unique in any of our lifetimes."