Next month's 146th Kentucky Derby, the second event in US horse racing's Triple Crown, will be contested without spectators, Churchill Downs announced Friday.
The September 5 showdown in Louisville, Kentucky, was postponed from May 2 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns over the deadly virus prompted the decision to keep the grandstands empty after organizers had already banned infield spectators.
"The health and safety of our team, fans and participants is our highest concern," the racetrack said in a statement.
Only essential personnel and participants will be allowed at Churchill Downs for the Derby or other related races.
"We've left no stones unturned and reached the right decision," said Bill Carstanjen, chief executive officer of Churchill Downs.
Tiz the Law, which won the Belmont Stakes in June, hopes to capture the second leg in the US flat racing treble at Louisville and complete the sweep in October's Preakness. The event order has been jumbled by postponements due to the deadly virus outbreak.
Churchill Downs had a safety plan for a limited number of spectators but kept all options open.
"With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to again revisit our planning," the statement said.
"We have made the difficult decision to hold this year's Kentucky Derby on September 5 without fans.
"Churchill Downs and all of our team members feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility as citizens of Louisville to do all we responsibly can to protect the health, safety and security of our community in these challenging times and believe that running the Derby without spectators is the best way to do that."
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear supported the move.
"The virus is still aggressively spreading in Kentucky and the White House has announced that Jefferson County and the City of Louisville are in a 'red zone' based on increases in cases," Beshear said. "This week alone the county had more than 2,300 new cases.
"I applaud Churchill Downs for continuing to monitor the virus and for making the right and responsible decision."