They weren’t records, but Churchill Downs Inc. reported solid a betting handle for the 14-race card Saturday, highlighted by the Kentucky Derby. According to a press release from the Louisville-based company, bettors wagered $233 million.
It’s the second-highest Derby Day handle, trailing only the $250.9 million wagered two years ago. As for the race itself, $155.4 million was bet on the Derby, down from the record $165.5 million wagered two years ago.
Those figures include all sources, including wagers made at other tracks and through online platforms, such as Churchill Downs own TwinSpires. Figures for on-track wagering were not released. However, it’s likely that will be down significantly from the 2019 total of $21.3 million due to reduced crowds because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Churchill Downs reported a crowd of 51,838 on Saturday. While it’s the largest crowd to watch a sporting event since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it’s roughly a third of the 150,729 who attended the races two years ago.
Today it was incredibly gratifying to welcome our fans back to Churchill Downs for the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement.
Medina Spirit won the race Saturday, giving trainer Bob Baffert his record-setting seventh win in the race, and jockey John Velazquez his fourth.
The Kentucky Derby is traditionally the most-wagered event annually in US horse racing, a sport that generates about $11 billion in total handle
Last year, the pandemic delayed the race to Labor Day weekend and kept Churchill Downs from welcoming fans. Wagering on the day’s races plummeted to $126 million.
Record for Online Derby Betting
One sector where Churchill Downs did see record-breaking numbers was, not surprisingly, in online wagering. For Saturday’s entire card, Churchill Downs reported a “preliminary record” handle of $62.7 million from its TwinSpires platform.
For just the Kentucky Derby, $40.8 million, another “preliminary record” was wagered through TwinSpires.
Both figures are substantial increases from last year’s totals, according to Churchill Downs. The race-day handle was up 66 percent from 2020, and the TwinSpires Derby handle saw an increase of 75 percent.
A factor likely helping the online wagers was that viewership rose substantially. NBC Sports on Sunday said its preliminary data shows Saturday’s broadcast will average about 15 million viewers. Last year’s broadcast was watched by just 9.3 million, the smallest television audience in the race’s history.
The average viewership in 2019 was 16.5 million.
Churchill Downs Reports Comparable Oaks Handle
The second-best Kentucky Derby handle comes a day after Churchill Downs posted its third-best Kentucky Oaks day total. The $54.3 million wagered ranks just behind the $55.8 million bet in 2018 and the $60.2 million in 2019.
Last year’s Oaks card reported a total handle of $30.8 million.
The weekend handle of $287.3 million trailed only the 2019 total of $311.1 million.