Derby Day Handle Up, Weekly Betting Down

Churchill Downs reported total wagering of $186.6 million for 13-race program May 3.

Churchill Downs reported a 1.08% increase in all-sources wagering for this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) program May 3, but an overall 1.81% decrease in total pari-mutuel handle for the six days that make up Kentucky Derby week.

The 13-race Derby card generated $186.6 million in wagering, up from $184.6 for the same number of races last year, Churchill officials said. On-track handle for the full card totaled $23.4 million, up 10.9% from $21.1 million in 2013 and down slightly from $23.7 million in 2012.

The 19-horse Derby alone produced total wagering of $129.2 million, down 0.99% from $130.5 million for a 19-runner field last year. On-track handle on the Derby came in at $11.9 million, up 3.47% from $11.5 million in 2013.

Based on Churchill's numbers, the Derby accounted for 69.23% of total handle for the program.

The reported attendance of 164,906 under ideal weather conditions May 3 was the second-highest in Kentucky Derby history. The May 2 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) program attracted 113,071, the third-highest for the event.

All-sources wagering on the 12-race Oaks program was down 5.67% to $43.2 million from $45.8 million last year. On-track handle on the Oaks card decreased 3.27% from $12.2 million last year to $11.8 million this year.

Total handle on the Oaks alone was $14.1 million, down 2.12% from 2013.

"We are proud of the enduring tradition that is the Kentucky Derby and the high-quality racing performances we saw today by the horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners who participated," Churchill president Kevin Flanery said in a May 3 release. "Honoring that tradition, we continue to make the sizeable investments that ensure Churchill Downs remains the premier venue for 'big event' racing."

Just before the spring meet, Churchill increased pari-mutuel takeout rates to the maximum allowed under Kentucky statute. The take on win, place, and show bets went from 16% to 17.5%, while the rate for all other bets jumped from 19% to 22%.

The move generated unrest among some horseplayers who believe takeout rates should be reduced, not increased, to grow handle. The Horseplayers Association of North America urged a boycott of the Churchill product beginning April 26, opening night of the spring meet.

The six-day Derby week total handle of $253.8 million dropped almost 2% from $258.5 million last year. HANA said it believes there were a number of bettors who didn't wager into the pools, and that the true test will come as the regular spring meet progresses through its June 29 conclusion.

Churchill officials said $147.8 million–79% of the total–was returned to winning bettors during this year's Derby day program. The remaining 21%, about $38.8 million, goes to owner Churchill Downs Inc., purses, taxes, and rebates for big bettors.

The purse account earned $9.5 million from Derby day, Churchill said. The money will be used for race purses during the spring, September, and fall meets this year.

On the shareholder side, CDI chairman and chief executive officer Robert Evans said earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization from the Derby and Oaks programs is estimated to grow $7.5 million to $9.5 million for 2014; last year he estimated growth in earnings at $4.5 million to $6.5 million for the 2013 Derby and Oaks.

"Kentucky Oaks and Derby week continues to be a significant driver of the company's growth performance," Evans said.

Wagering through the CDI-owned online service totaled $21.5 million May 3, up 5.91% from $20.3 million, officials said. Given those numbers, wagering on the Derby card was 11.52% of the total bet.