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Churchill Downs moves Kentucky Derby to Sept. 5

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For the first time since 1945, the Run for the Roses will not take place on the first Saturday in May.

Churchill Downs announced Tuesday morning that the 146th Kentucky Derby will be moved from May 2 to Sept 5, contingent upon final approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Thursday.

"For the second time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby, the first time being at the end of World War II, we will move the date of the Derby," Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said during a conference call Tuesday morning. "Our team is united in our commitment to holding the very best Kentucky Derby ever and certainly the most unique in any of our lifetimes."

"... We've moved past the fact we're changing a time-honored date. Had to be done. We own it, and will make [Sept. 5] a really special day."

It's the latest iconic American sporting event to be halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Carstanjen said the decision was made "to best protect the safety and health of our guests, team members and community."

The 146th Kentucky Oaks also has been rescheduled for Sept. 4.

Churchill Downs clearly wasn't interested in running the 146th Derby without fans in the stands, which is what other tracks have been doing, including Santa Anita in California, Oaklawn in Arkansas and the Fair Grounds in Louisiana.

"We feel confident we are going to run the Kentucky Derby and run it with a crowd," Carstanjen said. "It's a participatory event."

Last year's race drew 150,729 fans.

The 1945 Kentucky Derby was pushed to June because of World War II; it marked the latest date on the calendar for the 1.25-mile race for 3-year-olds. The next 75 races took place on the first Saturday in May.

The other two legs of the Triple Crown -- the Preakness and Belmont -- have scheduled dates for May 16 and June 6, respectively. The unofficial fourth leg -- the Travers Stakes -- was set for Aug. 29, just a week ahead of the new target date for the Kentucky Derby.

Carstanjen said NBC is in talks to move the Preakness and Belmont States to September and early October, respectively.

"We hope the parties can reach a final agreement," Carstanjen said. "It will make for a really unique Triple Crown season and a perfect setup for this year's Breeders' Cup."

NBC Sports said in a statement it appreciates the "traditional sequencing of the Triple Crown races," but these are "uncharted waters" and the network will work with the Preakness and Belmont to "determine the most appropriate timing."

The Maryland Jockey Club said in a statement that it is working with state and local governments and other parties to "determine the most appropriate time to conduct the Preakness Stakes."

"While we are mindful of the challenges these times present, we also know that events like the Preakness Stakes can help restore our sense of place and economic well-being to our communities and state," the Maryland Jockey Club said in a statement.

Carstanjen said points already earned by horses would be maintained, while existing races at tracks across the country would be added to the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying process.

"This will be fun and give fans more time to learn about this year's crop of 3-year-olds," he said.

The Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown, draws strong TV ratings. By moving it to Sept. 5, the race wouldn't conflict with Notre Dame football, satisfying NBC Sports, which televises both. The University of Louisville has an away football game that day.

On Sunday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised canceling events with 50 or more people for eight weeks into mid-May, and the White House on Monday advised Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people.

The NBA, NHL and other major in-season sports have suspended play, and the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments were canceled. The Masters also has been postponed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.