5 as the novel coronavirus continues to spread in Louisville.

The race, which is usually held on the first Saturday in May, was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and organizers had planned to welcome a reduced crowd of less than 23,000 spectators to Churchill Downs.

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"With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to again revisit our planning," Churchill Downs Inc. said in a statement.

"We have made the difficult decision to hold this year's Kentucky Derby on September 5 without fans," the company said.

"We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our loyal fans," it added.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said he backed the decision.

"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," he said.

"This week alone the county had more than 2,300 new cases," he said.

At least 174,266 people have died from the disease across the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Usually the first leg of U.S. thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown, this year's Kentucky Derby was preceded by the Belmont Stakes in June and will be followed by the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes. (Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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