Substituting pixels and algorithms for streaming manes and pounding hoofs, Churchill Downs (CHDN -0.48%) is marking the usual day of the Kentucky Derby with a "virtual race" instead of a contest between live competitors. The computer-simulated race is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 2, with broadcasting to continue for three hours, wrapping up at 6 p.m. EDT.
Traditionally, the Kentucky Derby is held on the first Saturday in May, featuring a gala celebration and crowds numbering as high as 150,000 people. However, with the risk of COVID-19 and both social distancing and lockdown orders in force, the dense throngs of spectators usually marking the event prompted Churchill Downs to postpone the race until Sept. 5, Labor Day weekend.
Dubbed "The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown," the virtual race will simulate a contest among 13 previous winners of the Triple Crown, creating a lineup of famous equines such as American Pharaoh, War Admiral, Secretariat, Count Fleet, Whirlaway, Gallant Fox, and Sir Barton. The race will simulate each horse using algorithms derived from historical handicap data about the animals.
To generate donations for COVID-19 relief, Churchill Downs will enable voting on fan favorites among the "horses" on KentuckyDerby.com, starting on April 30. People who vote on the website will also be invited to donate. Those who vote for the eventual winner will be entered into a contest for a "Kentucky Derby 146 VIP Experience" when the race actually takes place in September. Churchill Downs will match up to $1 million in donations.
The company will also offer "online festivities" all day on May 2, including crafts instruction, virtual tours of the Kentucky Derby Museum, cocktail and food recipes, and similar activities.