Carstanjen: Louisville Community ‘Overwhelmingly’ Supports Going Forward With Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs Inc. chief executive officer Bill Carstanjen appeared on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” on Thursday, telling co-anchor Kelly Evans the Kentucky Derby will go on as scheduled Sept. 5, in part because he says the Louisville community “overwhelmingly” supports the event and that it’s “an important part of our traditions and culture.”

Protesters, including Pastor Timothy Findley Jr. of the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville and leader of the Justice and Freedom Coalition, have called for the Derby to be cancelled this year in the wake of the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. The 26-year-old African-American emergency medical technician was shot in her home by Louisville police executing a no-knock warrant in search of a suspected drug dealer. No one has been charged in her death.

On Aug. 25, protesters marched through Louisville, at one point gathering outside the main gate of Churchill Downs and hanging a “Justice for Breonna Taylor” sign over an entrance sign to the track.

Findley and others have said they plan more demonstrations over the next week in hopes of disrupting or cancelling the Derby..

“With all due respect to the pastor, I think that’s not the majority of our community,” said Carstanjen. “The community in general overwhelmingly supports having the Derby. That doesn’t mean that we’re not sensitive and a part of the dialogue on the social and racial equality issues in our community and in our society.

“Our company’s been around for 145 years – this is our 146th Kentucky Derby,” Carstanjen told Evans. “But the feedback has been overwhelming to us through the community that this should go on. This is an important part of healing, this is an important part of our traditions and culture in our community.”

Evans also asked Carstanjen about the decision to run the Derby without spectators.

“Well, first it was a really, really hard decision and we made it at the last possible minute,” said Carstanjen. “But after a period where we saw some encouraging signs with COVID-19 and Jefferson County where Louisville is located, over the last couple of weeks we saw a real surge. So we’ve been designated a ‘red zone’ by the White House, and we’re seeing some discouraging signs and we needed to make a decision.

“So it was personally and professionally a really disappointing decision to have to make but without question it was the right thing for us to do. Our priority is keeping our community safe, our fans, our team members, and we got to the point with the numbers being what they were that that was the only responsible decision.”

Watch the Power Lunch segment here.


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