Fueled by record wagering on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), strong growth in simulcast betting and a rebound in on-track support, Churchill Downs reported total wagering surpass $600 million for the first time during the 129th Spring Meet that ended on July 6.
Total betting on the 52-day meet (from April 26 through July 6) rose to a record $649,168,043, an increase of more than 17 percent from the previous record of $553,203,055 established in 2002. The 2003 total included all money wagered on-track (including wholecard simulcasting at Churchill Downs) and at simulcast centers throughout North America. The daily average for total wagering was $12,484,001, an increase of more than 17 percent from the 2002 average of $10,638,520.
That total contains another record day of wagering on the track's premier event, the Kentucky Derby. The 129th running of the race established North American records for wagering on a single day and an individual race. Total wagering on the 11-race Derby Day card was $140,379,426, a gain of 14 percent from the previous record of $123,243,188 established on the 2002 Derby. Betting on the Derby itself totaled $87,805,197, an increase of 11 percent from the previous standard of $79,095,311 wagered on the Derby a year earlier.
The largest gains in the Spring Meet were recorded in off-track wagering, which surged to a record $555,483,053, the first time off-track wagering on Churchill Downs races had surpassed $500 million in a single meet. The off-track betting figure reflects an increase of more than 20 percent from the previous record of $461,039,759 that was established in 2002. Off-track wagering averaged $10,682,366 per day during the meet, an increase of more than 20 percent from the 2002 daily average of $8,866,149.
While the total and off-track wagering figures continued a trend of annual increases, on-track wagering and attendance at Churchill Downs rose after several years of declines in both areas. Total on-track wagering of $93,684,990 during the 52-day session, which was an increase of nearly two percent from the 2002 total of $92,163,296. Attendance for the meet totaled 716,212, an increase of nearly six percent from the 677,876 recorded during the previous Spring Meet.
Average daily on-track wagering for the meet was $1,801,634, an increase of nearly two percent from the 2002 total of $1,772,371. Average daily attendance was 13,773, a gain of nearly six percent from the daily average of 13,036 that passed through the track's turnstiles the previous year.
"The positive results of the 2003 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs are gratifying because those gains came despite the pressures of growing and maturing competition in our market, and increasing competition from within our industry from other racing states," said Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs. "During this meet we were able to regain a bit of the ground that we have lost since the arrival of new gaming and entertainment competition in our market in late 1998, but Churchill Downs' bid to be competitive and attract new fans remains a significant long-term effort."
Race purses for the 2003 Spring Meet remained among the highest in American racing and rose slightly from the previous year's spring session. Purses paid during the Spring Meet totaled $22,787,900, while daily purses averaged $438,229. Races averaged 8.89 starters per race, one of the highest figures in American racing and an increase from the 8.53 starters per race in the 2002 Spring Meet.
Newcomer Cornelio Velasquez earned the jockey title in his first full meet at Churchill Downs and ended a string of seven consecutive spring crowns by Pat Day, the track's all-time win leader. The 34-year-old native of Panama scored 63 wins to roll past Day, who was the runner-up with 51 victories.
Trainer Dale Romans claimed sole possession of the Spring Meet training title with 39 victories. Romans tied for the training title in the previous three spring meets and his current string of four consecutive spring crowns is the longest under the Twin Spires since Calumet Farm legend Ben Jones put together five in a row from 1937-41. Steve Asmussen was the runner-up with 24 wins.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey continued their record-setting run as leading owners in the Spring Meet. Horses wearing the Ramseys' familiar red-and-white silks won 14 races, a total that earned the Nicholasville, Ky. couple a record fourth straight Spring Meet title and their seventh consecutive Churchill Downs title overall, which is also a track record.