05/05/2012 10:55AM

Churchill Downs: Oaks day sets betting record of $39 million


All-sources handle on the 12-race Kentucky Oaks card on Friday was a record and up 6.5 percent over last year’s total, according to figures released by Churchill Downs.

The preliminary figure was an encouraging one going into the Saturday Kentucky Derby, the most popular day of betting in the U.S. Coupled with attendance of 112,522 – the second-highest figure of all time for Oaks day, and roughly 47,000 more people than attended the Saturday Breeders’ Cup card at Churchill last November – the growth in Oaks day business underscores the efforts by Churchill Downs to leverage the Derby and its surrounding events.

Churchill said that total wagering on the Oaks card was $39.9 million, a $2.4 million increase over handle of $37.5 million for last year’s 12-race card. Last year’s total was a record for Oaks day.

Weather for the first part of the card was hot and humid, and, by late afternoon, a squall of thunderstorms began approaching from the west. Just prior to 5 p.m. Eastern, Churchill issued an advisory to ontrack fans to seek shelter, and its last three races, including the Oaks, were delayed by more than 50 minutes as Churchill cleared the track of horses because of the threat of lightning. The weather advisory was perhaps overstated, and Churchill only got a short period of rain.

In recent years, Churchill has coupled its Oaks day with causes benefiting women’s health, and this year it partnered with Stand Up to Cancer and Horses for Hope, a breast-cancer fund supported by Jane Beshear, a horsewoman who is the wife of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. In previous years, Churchill had partnered with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure fund, but the track ended that partnership late last year, prior to a controversy over the Komen fund’s abandonment of Planned Parenthood erupted in early 2012.

The Oaks attendance of 112,522 was second only to the 2010 figure of 116,046. Last year’s attendance was 110,122, when weather conditions were ideal. Though Churchill does not release attendance figures for its regular cards, crowds on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at the track appeared much stronger than last year.

Ontrack wagering, however, did not fare as well. The total ontrack figure for the card was $11.6 million, Churchill said, down 3.6 percent. While all-sources wagering on the Oaks itself – which had a 14-horse field, compared to a 13-horse field last year – was up 3.4 percent to $11.8 million, ontrack wagering on the race dropped 12.8 percent to $2.6 million, perhaps because of the delay in running the race, which may have sent some attendees to the surrounding parking lots.