Anne M. Eberhardt

Derby Day Rain Doesn't Dampen Record Betting

Despite rain, Churchill Downs reports record handle for Derby Day.

The 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1)—and the day overall—saw record wagering despite historic rains that held down the on-track crowd.

All-sources wagering for the Derby and the Derby day card both set records with 8% gains. The full-card handle of $225.7 million topped last year's record of $209.2 million. The all-sources Derby race total of $149.9 million beat last year's record of $139.2 million.

All-sources wagering for the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and the Oaks day card May 4 were records as well. 

Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. said Derby week earnings also set records. An additional $11-13 million is expected to be added to earnings before taxes, depreciation, and other factors, although about $2.5 million of that growth is because of a change in accounting standards.

"We are deeply grateful to all the fans of the Kentucky Derby around the world who once again made this an amazing and memorable experience," said Churchill chief executive officer Bill Carstanjen in a statement.

The National Weather Service in Louisville reported about 3.15 inches of rain as of about 9:30 p.m. ET, which surpassed the century-old Derby Day record of 2.31 inches of rain set May 11, 1918, when Exterminator won the 44th Run for the Roses.

In spite of the more than 14 hours of rain in Louisville, 157,813 showed up at Churchill Downs. It was the eighth-largest crowd in Derby history, but down from last year's 158,070 and the record in 2015 of 170,513.

The on-track handle of $23 million for the day was up from last year's $21.9 million and was the eighth-highest in history.

"I want (racing) to do well," said trainer Bob Baffert, who won his fifth Derby. "I love when I hear record-breaking handle. That means people are still involved—still into it. You love to win on a card at events like the Breeders' Cup (and) Derby day. Even if it's the undercard, it means a lot, because there's 100,000 people watching you win a race. Everybody wants to win when the whole world is watching."

Churchill's advance-deposit wagering service posted gains over last year despite being unable to accept bets for about 20 minutes before the Derby. The $39.2 million bet through on Churchill races was up 15% from last year, and the $24.6 million bet on the Derby itself was up 18% over last year.

Derby week at the racetrack saw many increases, as the track showcased new suites and other improvements aimed at making entering easier.

"We were excited to introduce our latest round of renovations, and our investments in the facility continue to pay off as we strive to improve the guest experience every year," track president Kevin Flanery said in a statement.

The $311.2 million all-sources handle for the six-day Derby Week was a record, up 9% from the prior record of $285.1 million last year.

Attendance for the week of 375,346 increased 7% from last year. The April 28 opening-night crowd of 22,023 increased 5.1% from last year's 20,949. On Thursday, Churchill saw a record crowd of 48,134 for its "Thurby" card.

Finally, the 271,323 people who attended for Oaks and Derby represented the seventh-highest combined total in history and up from the 263,170 last year.