Churchill Downs concluded its 57-day Spring meet today with gains in total and off-track wagering and declines in on-track attendance and average daily on-track wagering.
Total wagering for the meet of $652.3 million marked the first time in Churchill Downs' 132-history that handle from all sources -- including money wagered on-track and on Churchill Downs' races at other racetracks and simulcast locations around the country - topped $600 million. Total off-track wagering for the meet was $552.5 million, while total on-track wagering, which includes money wagered on Churchill Downs live races and wholecard simulcast races, was $99.8 million. During the 2005 spring meet, which covered a period of 52 days, total wagering was $585.3 million, off-track wagering was $489.3 million, and on-track wagering was $96.0 million.Since the meet included five more days of live racing than the 2005 spring season, daily averages in wagering and attendance are used for year-over-year comparison purposes. Average daily total wagering was $11.4 million, an increase of 0.9% from the $11.3 million wagered during the previous year's 52-day meet. Average daily off-track wagering was $9.7 million, a jump of 3.2% from the $9.4 million wagered a year ago. Average daily on-track wagering was $1.75 million, a slight decline of 2.8% from the $1.8 million wagered during the spring of 2005.
Total attendance for the just-completed meet was 702,175, compared to 718,270 in 2005. Average daily attendance in 2006 slipped 10.8% to 12,319, compared to 13,813 the previous year.Another record-setting Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) weekend highlighted the 2006 spring meet, with total wagering on the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks race cards - and the Thursday that preceded them - growing to $219.4 million, an 11.1% gain over the same three-day period in 2005. Wagering on the Derby race itself climbed 13.9% to $118.4 million, a new North American record for wagering on a single race. The previous record was set on the 2005 Derby, when fans worldwide wagered $104.0 million on the Run for the Roses. Total wagering on the 2006 Oaks was $9.9 million, a 43.4% increase over the $6.9 million wagered a year earlier. Near record crowds packed Churchill Downs on Oaks and Derby Days, with 108,065 spectators watching long-shot Lemons Forever claim the garland of lilies on May 5, and 157,536 fans cheering Barbaro to the Derby Winner's Circle the following afternoon. Both attendance totals were the second highest in the history of each event. Attendance on the Thursday before Derby (May 4) set a new facility record, as 25,386 fans packed the Downs for the annual Crown Royal Festival in the Field, an increase of 15.3% over the same race day in 2005."We are delighted with the continued growth of our Kentucky Derby weekend in terms of wagering, attendance and the overall quality of the on-track competition during that three-day period," said president Steve Sexton. "We also pleased to see that the popularity of Churchill Downs racing extends well past the first Saturday in May, as horseplayers around the country reacted positively to the quality of our racing program throughout the 2006 spring season and helped us set a new record of $652.3 million for total wagering.
"While we are disappointed to see our on-track business dip slightly this year, we knew that last year's Spring meet, which featured the grand unveiling of our $121 million racetrack renovation, would draw many new and veteran race fans to see the remodeled Churchill Downs, and that the gains we enjoyed in on-track wagering and attendance in 2005 would be a challenge to top this season. Still, the modern amenities, group offerings and enhanced customer service made possible by our renovation continue to receive high marks from our guests. Also, our on-track results during two holiday weekends were impacted by inclement weather. Extreme heat and humidity depressed business levels over the Memorial Day weekend, while strong storms hit on the Fourth of July.""The competition Churchill Downs faces from racetracks in other states that are luring away Kentucky-based horses with purses fattened by slot machine gaming has not diminished," Sexton continued. "While our average field size is consistent with that of many top U.S. racetracks, growing that average remains a key focus for our entire team."Average field size for the 2006 Spring meet was 8.14 horses, down slightly from the 8.26 starters per race in 2005. Total race purses for the meet grew to $27.6 million, an increase of 9.5% over the $25.2 million offered in 2005. Average daily purses were down a slight 0.12% to $483,343 compared to the daily average of $483,940 a year earlier, reflecting the dilutive effect of five extra days of live racing.Apprentice jockey Julien Leparoux continued a remarkable spring in Kentucky as the 23-year-old native of Chantilly, France, won "leading rider" honors for the Spring meet. Leparoux, who currently leads the nation in jockey victories for the current year, held off Rafael Bejarano, the Spring meet's leading jockey in 2004 and 2005, by a margin of 87 to 81 to become the first apprentice jockey in more than half a century to earn a riding title at Churchill Downs. In late May, Leparoux surpassed the previous record for wins by an apprentice jockey under the Twin Spires, which was set by Travis Hightower when he piloted home 33 winners in 1982. Leparoux also won the winter-spring riding title at Turfway Park, tied Bejarano for the riding crown at Keeneland Race Course's Spring meet, and then became the first apprentice rider to complete the three-track sweep by claiming Churchill's title.
Trainer Dale Romans broke his own record for victories in a Spring meet of 57 days or fewer as he collected his sixth "leading trainer" title in the last seven years. The 39-year-old Louisville native saddled 43 winners to erase his previous record of 39 set in 2003. Romans' total of six Spring meet training crowns ranks second only to John F. Schorr, who collected nine spring training titles at Churchill Downs between 1900-1930.Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey also established a record as they earned their sixth "leading owner" title of the Spring meet and their record 11th Churchill Downs title overall. The Ramseys won 21 races during the 2006 meet to break the previous record of 19 wins in a Spring meet of 57 days or fewer, a distinction they shared with three other owners. The Ramseys had won 19 races in three other meets. Their six spring titles trails only legendary Calumet Farm, which earned seven spring crowns from 1940-1952.