Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs

Anne M. Eberhardt

Churchill Downs Spring Meet Handle Declines

Total and average daily wagering fell 3.31% during 38-day meet impacted by weather.

After posting record wagering on this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), the 38-day spring meet at Churchill Downs ended with a 3.31% decline in total and average daily handle.

Consistent with the corporate policy of parent Churchill Downs Inc., the Louisville track only reports handle and attendance on major race days such as the Derby and Oaks.

Numbers obtained from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission as reported through the CHRIMS pari-mutuel accounting system show handle totaled $395,312,288 for the meet that ended July 1, down $13,548,750 from the $408,861,038 total for a 38-day meet in 2011. The 2012 daily average of $10,402,955 was also down 3.31% from the 2011 average of $10,759,501.

Both meets had one cancellation—for tornado cleanup on June 23, 2011 and due to excessive heat on June 28, 2012.

The meet was highlighted by the May 5 Derby, with record attendance of 165,307 and Derby Day race card record wagering of $187 million for the classic won by Paul Reddam’s I'll Have Another .

On May 4, the 112,552 fans in attendance for the Oaks victory of Brereton C. Jones’ Believe You Can was the third-highest in history for the filly classic. Wagering for the day was a record $39.9 million.

The May 4 card was impacted by the threat of severe weather late on the program, prompting track officials to temporarily evacuate the infield with three races, including the Oaks, remaining on the 12-race program. The evacuation was the first in the history of the Kentucky Oaks and Derby, and with the severe weather missing the track the program resumed after a delay of 52 minutes. 

Inclement weather also had a significant impact on other days of the meet, with the April 28 opening-night “Downs After Dark” program delayed by nearly an hour after a thunderstorm that included softball-size hail pounded the track. Thunderstorms also prompted a delay in the July 1 closing card that had been moved from afternoon to night due to excessive heat.

Churchill reported an average 7.7 horses per race for the 395 races during the meet, down from the 7.9 horses per race average for the 410 races contested in 2011. Purses paid during the 2012 spring meet totaled $20,890,859 for a daily average of $549,759, compared with total purses of $21,099,187 and a daily average of $555,242 in 2011.

“It sounds like a cliché, but our spring meet truly offered a taste of just about everything for our on-track fans, our horsemen, jockeys, and members of our racetrack team, and we greatly appreciate the efforts of all who helped us enjoy success under often challenging circumstances,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “The meet’s high points are clearly the continued growth and enduring attraction of both the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, two of America’s great entertainment and sports events.  Our ‘Downs After Dark’ night racing programs were wonderful as we experimented with Saturday night schedules and the inclusion of major stakes races as part of those events for the first time. And our racetrack team and horsemen displayed resilience and flexibility in the face of unusually harsh spring weather.

“Our racing team did a remarkable job in working with horsemen to present a strong daily racing product, but its work was made significantly difficult this year  by the growing lure of racing at tracks in states where purses are supplemented by casino revenues, a roster that now includes New York tracks,” Flanery continued. “We deeply appreciate the loyalty and cooperation displayed by owners and trainers who strongly supported Churchill Downs racing this spring.  But we continue to compete on a playing field with those tracks that is far from level and the impact of that competition becomes more evident with each racing meet.”

Jockey Corey Lanerie secured his first Churchill meet riding title with 71 wins and Dale Romans won his ninth Churchill Downs training title and his first since the 2006 spring meet by saddling 23 winners.

Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. earned 15 wins to collect its second straight title as leading owner of the spring meet.