Wagering, Attendance Averages Down at Churchill

(from track release)
Churchill Downs established a record for total wagering in the 30-day Fall Meet that ended on Nov. 30, but also suffered declines in average daily on-track wagering and attendance.

Since the 30-day Fall Meet was six days longer than the track's corresponding session in 2001, results of the two meets are being compared through daily averages in attendance and wagering. Churchill Downs last conducted a 30-day Fall Meet in 1997.

Continued growth in wagering on Churchill Downs races at simulcast and satellite wagering centers across North America fueled an increase of nearly 17 percent in total wagering to a record $203,695,292. Total wagering on the 2001 Fall Meet was $174,823,513. But the daily average for total wagering fell to $6,789,843 in the just-completed meet, a decrease of nearly seven percent from the 2001 average of $7,284,313.

While total wagering on Churchill Downs races grew, average daily wagering and attendance at the track suffered declines. Average daily on-track wagering fell to $969,854, a decrease of nearly 17 percent from the 2001 average of $1,167,947. On-track attendance registered a similar decline as daily average attendance in the meet fell to 6,735, a drop of nearly 21 percent from the 2001 average of 8,494.

Along with increased gaming competition and continued concerns about the economy, the weather appeared to be a major contributor to the on-track declines in the Fall Meet. The 2001 session saw ideal weather on 22 of its 24 days and an average daily temperature of 65.7. But the 2002 meet saw an average temperature of 51.9, with recorded temperatures below 40 degrees on three days in the meet's final week. Races were conducted over wet tracks on nine of the meet's 30 days.

It is also likely that on-track and simulcast wagering was negatively impacted when Churchill Downs Incorporated instituted a new wagering procedure in which betting on Churchill Downs races was halted at approximately one minute to post. The new policy was adopted in an effort to maintain and build patron confidence in the track's wagering system in the aftermath of the investigation surrounding the Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6.

Total purses rose during the 30-day meet, but average daily race purses declined from 2001 Fall Meet totals. Purses paid during this year's meet totaled $11,358,275, an increase from the total of $9,719,015 during last year's 24-day meet. The track offered average daily purses of $378,609 in 2002, a decline of nearly seven percent from last year's average of $404,959.

Fans continued to enjoy full, competitive fields during the meet. The average number of horses per race 9.40, virtually unchanged from the 2001 average of 9.43.

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day missed the final day of the 30-day meet, but easily earned his record 18th Fall Meet riding crown and a record 33rd title overall. The 49-year-old Day piloted 50 winners and easily held off Calvin Borel and newcomer John McKee, who finished tied for second with 27 wins apiece. The victory total was Day's largest in a Fall Meet since 1985. He has now won three consecutive Fall Meet riding crowns and six consecutive titles overall.

Apprentice jockey McKee, 21, broke a record for victories by an apprentice rider during the Fall Meet held by Hall of Fame and Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown-winning jockey Steve Cauthen. The then 16-year-old Cauthen established his record during a 24-day Fall Meet in 1976. McKee piloted four winners on the meet's final day in his finest single-day performance of the meet.

The race for leading trainer came down to the meet's final day and Ken McPeek came away with his first training crown under the historic Twin Spires. McPeek rallied in the meet's final days to finish with 15 victories, one more than runner-up Carl Nafzger.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey continued their recent domination of the leading owner standings as the Nicholasville, Ky. residents captured another Fall Meet crown. It was the Ramseys' third consecutive Fall Meet title and they have now won a record six consecutive leading owner titles overall. Horses carrying the Ramseys' familiar red-and-white silks won seven races, two more than Buckram Oak Farm and James Tafel, who tied for second.