Louisville looks to bounce back with Kentucky Derby in May
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Derby returns on the first Saturday in May, slowly bringing with it the sights, sounds and rituals familiar to Louisville.
Local officials and business owners are hopeful it will translate into better cash flow after the coronavirus pandemic upset their schedule last year for the traditional opening of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.
The Thunder Over Louisville air show and fireworks that kick off the Kentucky Derby activities resumed with a bang in mid-April. Marathons and cycle races, held virtually last fall, went live last weekend, with thousands of yellow rubber ducks floating in the Ohio River in the Ken-Ducky Derby. Tourists return regularly to downtown hotels, restaurants and museums.
The most anticipated scenes loom in Saturday’s 147th Race for Roses at Churchill Downs, where women in colorful tall hats and men in seersucker costumes will occasionally have to remove their required face masks to sip bourbon and juleps a la mint and blow on cigars.
âIt really smells like Derby,â said Kenzie Kapp, a Louisville native, who owns a headdress manufacturing business and appreciates an increase in demand for masks to match his hats and fascinators. âIn the fall, it was different. It’s so good to be back on the first Saturday in May. It feels good. We feel good. You feel at home. â
Social distancing guidelines will divide the crowd under the Twin Spiers and into the infield, a stark contrast to last fall’s no-spectators Kentucky Derby which was pushed back to Labor Day weekend. Either way, it’s an encouraging sign of a return to normalcy for the biggest horse event and its hometown.
This year’s economic impact on the region is estimated at $ 34.6 million, or less than a tenth of the typical $ 400 million. Capacity for Friday – when the Kentucky Oaks for fillies is the main event – and Saturdays at Churchill Downs is limited to 40% to 50% for reserved seats and up to 60% in some private areas. Approximately 15,000 fans will be allowed in the infield, with a total attendance of approximately 45,000 spectators.
Although these projections are 100,000 below normal, this is still enough to rekindle the hopes of companies affected last spring by the first postponement of the race since 1945.
âThere is still enthusiasm and notoriety associated with the brand because it is such a great tradition,â said Louisville Tourism spokesperson Rosanne Mastin. âIt might not be the 100% capacity we’re used to, but we’re in luck. We will still realize some of the economic impact of what is usually Louisville’s greatest generator of tourism.
“We’re happy to have some, because we really didn’t have any before last year. Some are better than nothing.”
The occupancy rate exceeded 60% among the region’s 21,000 hotel rooms, with several establishments sold out. Luxury hotels such as the Omni Louisville are enjoying the return of the event, although rooms cost around $ 1,999 per night with a three-night minimum.
âWe are just thrilled and grateful to have an event here this year and to have fans here that we can serve and support,â said Eamon O’Brien, general manager of the hotel.
Things come to life on a regular basis in other downtown locations, a trend businesses hope will continue beyond this weekend.
As COVID-19 guidelines limited tour groups to six at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Whiskey Row, Heaven Hill Distillery Visitor Experience Director Jeff Crowe said tours were booked. until the end of May. Its bar and retail space has grown, boosting activity at its On3 bar.
âOur phones are ringing off the hook,â Crowe said.
At Churchill Downs, Jonathan Blue is eager to kick off cigar sales as a track partner after missing an opportunity when fans weren’t allowed. The Liquor Barn co-owner said the statewide chain has achieved a surprising boost with alcohol packaging for home parties, but it’s curious how the mask warrants will affect sales and the pleasure.
Attendance at the Frazier History Museum began to increase in March as more people were vaccinated. Event reservations are also underway at the site which showcases Kentucky tradition and heritage, particularly its signature whiskey.
Museum President and CEO Andy Treinen noted that there is a way to go before the buzz hits pre-pandemic levels. Energy is rising, however, with Louisville and the Kentucky that will benefit in the long run.
âIt’s the month of every year where you get to see the people you see once a year and celebrate with,â Treinen said. âYou may see them more times a year, but it’s party time. We’re slowly coming back to that, and that’s what makes the state of Kentucky feel special on time. of the Derby. “