Kentucky Derby 146: Betting Handle Drops By About Half From Last Year’s Record Total

Posted on: September 6, 2020, 12:28h. 

Last updated on: September 6, 2020, 11:59h.

Betting on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby card fell by nearly 50 percent from last year’s record handle, as only $126 million was bet across all sources on the 14 races at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Authentic Kentucky Derby
Authentic, ridden by John Velazquez, took the lead early in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby and never looked back. (Image: Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

Of that total, bettors wagered $79.4 million on the Derby itself, won by Authentic for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s record-tying sixth win in the premier race for 3-year-old horses. Authentic, with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard, held off heavily favored Tiz the Law down the stretch to win by 1-1/4 lengths.

Back in March, Churchill Downs leaders announced the Derby would move from its traditional first Saturday in May date to Labor Day weekend because of the coronavirus pandemic. Track officials initially planned to allow about 23,000 fans at the historic grounds. However, they changed their minds on Aug. 21, citing a recent spike in cases in the area.

Only select media, horsemen, and horsemen’s select guests were among those able to watch the race under the Twin Spires.

In a statement after the race, Churchill Downs attributed the drop off due partly to the empty grandstand and infield.

The decline in handle for this year’s Derby Day program is attributable to the lack of on-track wagering, fewer horses per race, including in the Kentucky Derby race, and a prohibitive favorite in the Derby race,” the statement from Churchill Downs Inc. read.

“Although it is difficult to compare the financial performance to prior years, we are pleased with the profitability of the spectator-less 2020 Derby Week.”

Look at the Derby Numbers

Saturday’s total handle was the lowest amount bet on the Derby Day card since 2002, when $123.2 million was bet on the day’s races.

Last year, 150,729 attended Derby Day festivities at Churchill. Those patrons wagered $21.3 million of the record $250.9 million in the all-sources handle. Last year, the Derby accounted for $165.5 million of the amount bet on all races at the track.

Similarly, Friday’s Kentucky Oaks day card also dropped to $30.8 million this year from $60.2 million in 2019. Betting on the Oaks itself went from $19.4 million in 2019 to $10 million Friday. Fans again were not allowed at the track.

Usually the largest race, field-wise, is US thoroughbred racing. The Derby featured just 15 entries this year. That’s the smallest field since 15 also ran in 1998. Three horses were scratched from the race, including Thousand Words just minutes before the race. Thousand Words, Baffert’s other entry, reared up and then fell while entering the paddock for jockey Florent Geroux to saddle him.

Jason Frakes of The Courier Journal reported a track veterinarian who checked the colt said he was fine. But the vet still removed him from the race as a precaution. In the spill, Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant trainer, broke his hand.

Tiz the Law entered the race a winner in his last four starts. Oddsmakers installed him as the 3-5 morning-line favorite, and bettors concurred. The Barclay Tagg-trained horse went off as the first horse with less than even-money odds since Arazi in 1992. His 3-5 odds made him the lowest-priced post time favorite since Spectacular Bid also broke at that price in 1979.

Vegas Book Wins With Tiz Loss

Another reason for the decline was the lack of an agreement between Churchill Downs and the racebooks in Nevada to carry the entire card. As a result of the impasse, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) allowed the books to take action only on the Derby and Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. The books could not take bets on any of the other stakes races the track offered during the week.

Other Las Vegas sportsbooks offered fixed-odds on the race. Paul Zilm, a risk supervisor at Circa Sports, told that Tiz the Law’s loss was their gain. Like the pari-mutuel pool, Circa’s odds on Tiz the Law were less than even-money.

“People bet him throughout the afternoon,” Zilm said. “Overall, him losing was beneficial for us. We had a lot of parlay liability tied to him, too.”

What’s Next for Authentic?

In a typical year, Baffert would be lining Authentic up for a shot at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. However, for reasons noted in the first section above, this isn’t a typical year by any stretch of the imagination. After the Derby was moved, officials at Pimlico Race Course decided to move the Preakness to Oct. 3, giving runners a month between the traditional first two legs of the Triple Crown.

The Belmont Stakes, which typically is the anchor leg, served as the first race this year, which Tiz the Law won in June.

In addition, the Breeders Cup Classic will run just a month after the Preakness this year. Neither Baffert nor Authentic’s connections spoke to their plans after the win. That will likely come Sunday morning at the earliest.

From Tiz the Law’s camp, mixed signals emerged. Jack Knowlton, the managing partner of Sackatoga Stables, which owns the horse, said he wants to go to Baltimore “and get some revenge” if his horse is healthy.

Tagg, though, has other ideas, according to a tweet from Tim Wilkin of the Albany (NY) Times Union.

“I don’t see any reason to,” Tagg said. “But I don’t own the horse. I don’t want to do both” the Preakness and the Classic.