Fans and bettors made the Breeders' Cup World Championships' first appearance at Churchill Downs in six years a big one with record numbers for all-sources and on-track handle.
Breeders' Cup officials on Nov. 5 released an unofficial all-sources total of $138,687,855, but fully expected the total to climb above $140 million by the time figures were collected from all the foreign pools that participated in the Nov. 4 World Championships simulcast.
The unofficial figure represented an 11.9% jump over the previous record of $123,978,241 set during last year's event held at Belmont Park, and marked the fifth straight year a record was set for total handle.
The on-track handle figure of $18,259,971 nearly mirrored the increase of all-sources handle, rising 11.7% above the previous mark of $16,346,688 accumulated during the 2003 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park.
An unofficial all-sources handle number of $132,713,503 was wagered on the eight Breeders' Cup races alone this year, up 14% from $116,434,571 last year. That figure is also expected to rise after officials account for all the pools.
"The handle exceeded everyone's expectations," Breeders' Cup and National Thoroughbred Racing Association interim chief executive officer Greg Avioli said Nov. 5 to those assembled for the traditional day-after breakfast conference. "It can only be attributed to the quality of horses, the quality of field size, and the quality of promotion by ESPN."
Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs, echoed Avioli's comments. "That really is an indication of what a great card can do," he said. "These events don't just happen without a lot of effort. The fact that we had records makes it that much more satisfactory."
ESPN televised its first-ever Breeders' Cup, following a run by NBC since the first event was first staged in 1984 at Hollywood Park.
"If you saw what they did, you know that a lot of hard work went into it," Avioli said.
When pressed for a handle estimate the day before the races, Ken Kirchner, senior vice president of product development for the NTRA and Breeders' Cup, said he thought $135 million would be attainable.
"We've worked hard to make this the best betting day of sports," he said. "This is not just the Super Bowl of racing, but the Super Bowl of wagering."
Kirchner said separate pools still needed to be tallied from countries such as Italy, South Africa, and Mexico, which were among the collection of more than 30 countries participating in Breeders' Cup wagering. Kirchner said wagering in France alone jumped 20% to $4.2 million.
A total of $4,786,481 was wagered on the Ultra Pick 6, and two winning tickets worth $1,450,707 were realized. One ticket was purchased at Hinsdale Greyhound in New Hampshire, while the other was purchased through XPressBet in Oregon. There were 85 consolation tickets worth $11,318 each.
The on-track attendance of 75,132 was the third highest for a Breeders' Cup and trailed only the all-time mark of 80,452 and runner-up total of 76,043, which were also recorded at Churchill (in 1998 and 2000, respectively).
Churchill also is the site of the other two plus-70,000 attendance marks in Breeders' Cup history -- 71,671 in 1994 and 71,237 in 1988. The 1991 event at the Louisville, Ky. complex drew 66,204.
"I was asked when we were coming back to Churchill for the Breeders' Cup," Avioli said, "and I said we could be coming back as early as 2008."
Next year's Breeders' Cup is scheduled to be held at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., the first time that venue has hosted the event.