05/05/2002 11:00PM

Betting records tumble at Derby


NEW YORK - Fueled by a wide-open field with 18 individual betting interests, total betting on the Kentucky Derby this year was a record $79.1 million. It was an 11 percent increase over last year's handle and the largest handle ever on a single race in the United States.

It was the second year that Churchill took bets on each horse in the Derby. Under the rules before 2001, as many as nine horse could have been grouped into one betting interest, the field.

The record Derby handle contributed to another record: total handle on one card. All-sources handle for the 11-race Derby card - one race more than last year - was $123.3 million, easily exceeding the previous record of $108.6 million that was set on the 10-race Breeders' Cup card in 2000.

Saturday's total handle figure firmly establishes the Kentucky Derby card as the most popular day of racing in the U.S. More money was wagered on Breeders' Cup Day than on Kentucky Derby Day from 1998 to 2000, but the Derby took the lead last year, and this year, it set a benchmark for Breeders' Cup 2002 to pursue.

"All you can do is say hats off to them," said Ken Kirchner, the senior vice president for product development for the Breeders' Cup, on Monday. "Those numbers are huge, tremendous - and I just hope it's a precursor to the Breeders' Cup this year."

With two longshots finishing first and second and no coupled entries, payoffs in the exotics pools were also records. The War Emblem (20.50-1)-Proud Citizen (23.30-1) exacta paid $1,300.80 for a $2 bet. The $2 trifecta with Perfect Drift (7.90-1) third paid $18,373.20. The $1 superfecta with Medaglia d'Oro (6.90-1) fourth paid $91,764.50. It was the highest superfecta payoff ever at Churchill, which introduced the bet in 1996.

Last year, the Derby exotics set records at $1,229 for the exacta, $12,238.40 for the trifecta, and $62,986.90 for the superfecta.

The big exotics prices were not universal, however. At Sportsman's Park in Chicago, bettors were offered betting through either an Illinois pool or the Churchill commingled pool. War Emblem, who won the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's in his race immediately preceding the Derby, paid only $30.80 to win in the Sportsman's pool. The exacta in that pool paid $1,410.60 and the trifecta paid $19,127.80. No one in the Illinois pool selected the superfecta; the $2 consolation ticket returned $17,844.

John Brokopp, a spokesman for Sportsman's, said the track frequently offered two betting pools on major races in the past, but this year it was offering two pools only on the Derby.

"We advertise it as a way to shop around for the best odds," Brokopp said. "It's a bit of a promotion."

Offshore, where bookmakers frequently cap payoffs, it was a different story for some. One bettor with an account with World Sports Exchange, located in Antigua, posted a message on a newsgroup under the handle Pnishthm, complaining that he had hit the Derby exacta, but that the exacta payoffs were capped at 100-1. World Sports Exchange also caps trifecta payoffs at 300-1.

Attendance on Derby Day was 145,033, according to Churchill, down 6 percent compared with last year's attendance of 154,210. It was the fifth-highest attendance in the history of the Derby, Churchill said. The record attendance of 163,628 was set in 1974.

On-track wagering for the day was $19.4 million, up 10 percent compared with last year. On-track betting on the Derby itself was $8.6 million, up 3 percent compared with last year but well below the record $9.8 million bet on-track in 2000, the last year in which Churchill grouped bets at its Sports Spectrum off-track betting location in Louisville as on-track handle.