Instant Racing Success Leads Churchill Downs to Raise Spring Meet Purses for Second Time

Posted on: May 30, 2019, 10:11h. 

Last updated on: May 30, 2019, 10:11h.

Buoyed by the strong performance of its new instant racing facility, Churchill Downs announced it will bump its race purses by more than 10 percent for the second half of its spring meet.

For the second time in less than six months, Churchill Downs announced it would increase purses for its spring meet races, thanks to the strong performance of its instant racing venue. This year, track officials expect the total purses to be valued at $33.5 million, more than an $11 million increase from last year. (Image: Churchill Downs)

Starting Thursday, the Louisville track will raise its maiden special weight purses to $95,000. That’s a $10,000 jump from similar races earlier in the meet. Allowance races will also see a $10,000 increase, as those races will now range between $97,000 to $104,000.

Those increases, which amount to $1.1 million, are on top of substantial raises the track announced in January. Last spring, maiden races offered purses of $53,000, while allowance races offered between $55,000 to $61,000.

Track officials cited the performance of Derby City Gaming, a $65 million instant racing parlor that opened last September by Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI), as a catalyst for the purse raises. Instant racing machines resemble slot machines but use a preselected race to determine whether the gambler wins.

Our investment into Derby City Gaming continues to pay immediate dividends to all owners, trainers, and jockeys,” said track President Kevin Flanery in a statement.

Through April, Derby City, which holds 900 instant racing machines, has generated nearly $490 million in wagers since the doors opened last fall. That has led to nearly $39.2 million in revenue for CDI.

The money for the latest round of increases comes from the money Derby City generates for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. The fund supplements purses and provides incentives for owners to race horses sired and foaled in the state. It has received nearly $3.7 million from the instant racing parlor since it opened.

Fields Also See Increase

With the second increase, Churchill Downs now expects the purses for the 38-day meet to total $33.5 million. That’s a more than 50 percent jump from the 2018 spring meet, which paid out $22.2 million.

Not only is the money up from last year but so, too, is the average field size for the races.

Darren Rogers, the track’s senior director for communications, told that through the first 19 days of the 2019 spring meet, 3,637 horses have run in 190 races for an average of 8.5 entrants per race. The first half of the 2018 spring meet, which was also 190 races, attracted 3,544 horses. That’s an average of eight per race.

Just like last year’s spring meet, this year Churchill Downs will run 372 races.

Stakes Purses Also Increased

When initially raising the purses for maiden and allowance races, Churchill Downs also announced a substantial increase in the Kentucky Derby purse. The track increased the purse for the Grade I race by $1 million to $3 million. The Grade I Kentucky Oaks saw a $250,000 increase to $1.25 million.

The second half of Churchill’s spring meet does not include races as prestigious as the Derby. However, the featured stakes races will also see substantial increases in their purses. Four stakes races received $25,000 bumps and will now feature $125,000 purses, while three others received $20,000 increases to $120,000.

The spring meet ends on June 29.