Churchill Downs Reports Second-Highest Derby Wagering

Handle for the 14-race card including the 147th Kentucky Derby, won by Medina Spirit giving trainer Bob Baffert (l.) his record seventh win, was $233 million, following the record of $250.9 million in 2019. Handle for the race itself was $155.4 million, down $5.1 million from the 2019 record.

Churchill Downs Inc. reported the May 1st, 14-race card that included the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby brought in $233 million in wagers. That’s the second-highest handle in Derby Day history, right behind $250.9 million wagered in 2019. Handle for the race itself was $155.4 million, down from the record $165.5 million that was bet two years ago.

Last year, the race was moved to Labor Day weekend due to Covid-19; fans were not allowed in and wagering on the day’s races fell to $126 million. More bets are made on the Kentucky Derby than any other event in U.S. horseracing, which typically generates about $11 billion in total handle.

This year’s handle included every source−wagers made at other tracks and through online platforms like Churchill Downs’ own TwinSpires, which reported a “preliminary record” handle of $62.7 million. Another “preliminary record” was set for the Kentucky Derby alone, at $40.8 million, wagered through TwinSpires. Churchill Downs said the race-day handle was up 66 percent from 2020, and the TwinSpires Derby handle was up 75 percent.

On-track wagering figures were not released but observers said due to Covid-19 occupancy restrictions, those numbers most likely are much lower than the 2019 total of $21.3 million.

Attendance at Churchill Downs was 51,838 on Derby Day−the largest crowd to watch a sporting event since the Covid-19 pandemic began. However, that’s about one-third the number of 150,729 attendees who watched the races in 2019.

Online wagering got a boost from broadcast viewership, officials said. NBC Sports on Sunday said preliminary data showed Saturday’s broadcast averaged about 15 million viewers. Last year, about 9.3 million people, the smallest TV audience in Derby history, watched the race. In 2019, average viewership was 16.5 million.

By now, everyone knows Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby, giving trainer Bob Baffert his record-setting seventh win in the race and jockey John Velazquez his fourth. Commenting on the possibility of Medina Spirit running in the next stop toward the Triple Crown—the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore –Baffert commented, “Can he win the Triple Crown? I don’t know, but he’s the Derby winner and that’s all that matters.”

In 2018, Baffert’s Derby winner Justify went on to become his second Triple Crown winner in four years. Now, Medina Spirit’s biggest threat is considered to be one of his Santa Anita stable mates, Concert Tour, Baffert’s top horse before he ran third in the Arkansas Derby. Baffert and Concert Tour’s owners Gary and Mary West skipped the Kentucky Derby in favor of the Preakness.

Baffert stated, “Medina Spirit came out of it well. It takes about a week to determine, so I’m going to come back next weekend and see. But I don’t see anything discouraging right now. I’ll sit down and talk to Mr. West. He wants Concert Tour to develop, and we’re not rushing things. We know he’s a good horse. The thing is how they’re training. They both would have to be training well.”