Kentucky Downs, which markets its low takeout pari-mutuel wagering, concluded a record-shattering five-date session up 34% in wagering on the all-grass meet.
Even with having to move its opening card from Saturday of Labor Day weekend (Sept. 2) to the following Wednesday (Sept. 6) following a six-inch deluge of rain, Kentucky Downs shattered last year's betting record.
Wagering from all sources on Kentucky Downs' 2017 meet that ended Thursday totaled $30,246,887.68. That's an average of $6,049,377.52 a day and reflects an increase of 34.19% over the $22,540,761.22 bet in 2016. Off-track betting on the meet was $29,217,935.98, up 35.2% from the $21,611,352.02 wagered last year.
Kentucky Downs registered its top two single-day betting totals at $8,487,323.27 (Sept. 9) and $6,044,717.15 (Sept. 10). That not only smothered the old single-day mark of $5,769,505.23 last year on the track's marquee card, but consider that five years ago, the entire five-date meet totaled $7.57 million. The closing-day handle on Sept. 14 was $5,679,416.31, up 55% over last year's finale.
"What's amazing about our meet is that the biggest day we had last year—and it was an all-time record—was Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Day," said Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs senior vice president and general manager. "And we handled $5.7 million. This year, for five days, we averaged $6 million.
"Even with the rain-out day, to go over $30 million is unbelievable. It just shows that horseplayers and casual fans alike love the Kentucky Downs product. And our enthusiastic crowds show they love the entire experience of being at the track in a fun, festive family atmosphere that combines full fields of horses, low takeout rates on wagers, top-class horses, and no hassle."
Kentucky Downs doesn't charge admission so there is no attendance count. However, the eyeball test and large crowds lining the rail and grassy racetrack apron--as well as increased on-track handle--suggest more people than ever came to watch Kentucky Downs racing in person, many from out of state
"I came last year by myself, and I was just blown away by the beauty, the whole atmosphere," said Bruce Micklus of Missoula, Montana. "I made a promise to myself that I would never miss this race meet ever again."
Larry Brown, a retired math and physics teacher from Russellville was there on Sept. 9 with his wife, retired art teacher Brenda, daughter Jenny Todd and 1-year-old granddaughter Olivia. Brenda, sporting a Kentucky Downs hat signed by Calvin Borel, said they have been going there the last five years.
"This is our third day. It's kind of like going to the park — a very relaxed feel. It's good to be as intimate as you are next to the jockeys and a lot of the trainers and the horses," Larry Brown said.
On-track wagering was up, totaling $1,028,951.70 for the meet, compared with $929,409.20 last year, for a jump of 11%.
A total of 522 horses ran at the meet for an average field size of 10.44, down from last year's 10.96, a figure that will at the least be among the highest in the country, if not at the top of that list.
At the meet, Kentucky Downs launched the Jockey7 wager—allowing horseplayers to bet on individual jockeys and their mounts as a collective group over each card's last seven races. Wagering totaled $47,460.50, with part of the track's commission going to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
"We are honored to work with the Permanently Disabled Jockeys and introduce the Jockey7," said Kentucky Downs president and part owner Corey Johnsen. "Our goal at Kentucky Downs is to be an innovator for the industry. I am optimistic this wager will continue to grow.
"Like most new endeavors in our industry, it takes time to iron out some of the operational issues. But it has to start somewhere, and we were glad to be that track."