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The sun is shining on the Kentucky Oaks, where Churchill Downs has two clearly distinct vibes. In some places, people spread out, wearing masks dutifully matched to magnificent hats and springlike outfits. But among the huge crowds of students in the infield?

The situation is very different.

A crowd of mostly college-age attendees at Churchill Downs, most maskless and many huggingGraham Ambrose |

A crowd of mostly college-age attendees at Churchill Downs on Friday.

Few are wearing masks, though most have them dangling beneath their chins. And they’re… not distancing.

Churchill Downs limited reserved seats to up to 60% capacity, and up to 30% in the standing room only infield.

“State mask requirements still apply for guests of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby due to attendance in excess of 1,000,” Churchill Downs said in a press release about COVID-19 protocols. “Protective face coverings/masks are required for all guests unless seated while actively eating or drinking. Guests will be encouraged to socially distance themselves from others when possible.”

A reporter in the infield for about 15 minutes didn’t see any attempts at enforcement.

“I did not expect this many people, because of COVID,” said Jennifer Lopez, a University of Louisville student.

Lopez is vaccinated, so she’s not nervous. But some of her friends in attendance are not.

“It makes me worried for them, what the future holds for them, but at the same time, they know what risks they’re taking so YOLO,” she said.

(That means “you only live once.”)

Later in the afternoon, WDRB reporter Marcus Green snapped a photo of two security staffers holding signs saying “Mask required.” Walking behind them were two young men with masks on their chins.

Elsewhere at the track, masks were more integrated into the traditional pink Oaks attire.

J. Tyler Franklin |

Sarah Veeneman and Bethany Murtland speak to a WFPL reporter.

Sarah Veeneman and Bethany Murtland are health care workers. Veeneman went with a neon theme, and neon fish on her mask. Murtland chose bright colors and a calmer, floral mask to complement.

They both said being at the Oaks felt “amazing” after a year dealing with the pandemic head-on. They thought Churchill Downs was doing a good job providing some normalcy and casual fun.

“We take the precautions as part of our lifestyle,” Veeneman said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.