05/11/2012 2:31PM

Crist: Kentucky Derby Day handle a compellingly positive sign

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Barbara D. Livingston
I’ll Have Another wins a Kentucky Derby that saw handle up nearly 20 percent.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the 2012 Kentucky Derby was neither I’ll Have Another’s victory at 15-1, nor Bodemister’s dazzling attempt to wire the field, but that betting on the race soared nearly 20 percent from a year ago.

In 2011, commingled bets on the Derby, and the multirace bets ending with it, totaled $107.8 million, a tiny decline from the 2010 total of $108.9 million. This year, that number climbed 19.27 percent to $128.6 million. (These figures are slightly different from Churchill Downs’s because I included only commingled, one-day bets, but the increases are very close on both sets of numbers.)

There were no dramatic differences in weather, ontrack attendance, or the depth and quality of the 2011 and 2012 Derby Day cards. Both were 13-race programs with virtually identical post times, stakes offerings, and field sizes (123 starters this year vs. 126 in 2011.) Betting was basically flat year over year on the 12 supporting races ($53.9 million vs. $53.3 million), with virtually all the gains coming on Derby-related wagering pools – $20.8 million of the $21.4 million gain.

All 11 of those Derby pools were up, while only 42 of the day’s 71 other pools showed a gain over last year. Every Derby pool was up at least 9 percent. (That was the pickup in superfecta wagering, where growth continues to be hampered by Churchill’s overly cautious refusal to offer the bet in 10-cent increments on Derbty Day.) There were gains of 22 percent in the win-place-show pools, 15 percent in the exacta and trifecta pools, and pickups of 21 to 35 percent in the double, pick three, pick four and pick five. A $286,000 carryover from Oaks Day probably helped account for a $941,000 increase in the pick six pool, but that’s only 5 percent of the year-over-year increase. (You can find a full pool-by-pool breakdown of the 2011 and 2012 Derby Day betting on my blog at drf.com).

It pays to be cautious when looking at year-over-year variances to be sure there’s no overriding reason that has nothing to do with the product or how it is being marketed. For example, when national betting figures were up in each of the first three months of this year, no one claimed that racing was enjoying some significant resurgence – obviously the weather had been a huge factor, with the mildest northern winter in decades prompting far fewer cancellations and fewer scratch-ravaged, sloppy-track programs. Reaity returned in April when weather was comparable to a year ago and the national handle dipped 7 percent.

So why the explosion in Derby betting? The only comparable gain in recent years in one of the sport’s signature events (excluding Belmont Stakes fluctuations when there’s a Triple Crown on the line)was the Breeders’ Cup two years ago, when full-card handle soared from $95.7 million at Santa Anita in 2009 to $110.0 million at Churchill in 2010. The gain came largely from increased action on the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where Zenyatta’s bid for perfection in her final career start drove the Classic pools from $24.9 million to $37.0 million. That gain was widely attributed to a “60 Minutes” feature on Zenyatta the Sunday before the race, with bigger fields and a return to dirt racing also probably contributing to the increase.

There’s really no comparable explanation for this year’s Derby surge. It was an appealingly wide-open race, with a 4.20-1 favorite and nine horses at 15-1 or less, but that was not a radical departure from other recent editions. There was no Zenyatta-like figure of national prominence and few if any proclamations that the sport’s next superhorse was in the field. While difficult to quantify, it’s probably fair to say that it didn’t hurt that NBC and its networks presented national telecasts (funded in large part by the Jockey Club) of three Saturdays of Derby preps. Including a Santa Anita Derby/Wood Memorial telecast April 7 that drew 1.2 million viewers.

Whatever the reason, the gains were particularly heartening to those who want to see the game succeed, because they came amid what may have been an unprecedented spate of negativity surrounding the sport and its real and perceived problems with medications and accidents. Part of the narrative routinely put forward by the sport’s detractors is that these issues are alienating the general public from racing, driving away longtime fans, and preventing newcomers from trying out the game.

A sharp Derby Day decline would have been widely cited as proof of that thesis. Instead, the supposedly fed-up public voted with their wallets that at least on days when it puts its best foot forward, racing remains a compelling attraction.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow...NO REASON..does this guy have a clue...what about on-line betting..is that included in the take????
Reed Galinac More than 1 year ago
Be careful what you wish for on those $.10 Derby supers, Steve. I have seen guys with 10 bucks in their account completely take over a betting machine grinding out .$10 supers in races with 8 horses. Put enough of those guys to work betting a 20-horse Derby, and they could literally make time stand still and, yes, hurt the the overall Derby handle, I kid you not. Not to mention, if someone like me was standing behind them watching them make an $8 bet take 15 minutes to transact...well, I can foresee all kinds of ugliness. The only way I see it working is to have designated self-serve machines for this particular segment of the betting public, and that's not something I see any track having the foresight or desire to do. Serious players are using personal betting machines or online accounts on Derby Day anyway, but players standing in line behind these guys won't know what hit 'em. By the time you get to the window, you'd be betting the Preakness.
T Cs More than 1 year ago
If a coming renaissance comes to the horse racing world, It will be because people are burning out of the lebron james, pujouls, peyton manning,, overpaid athletes will be more and more tiresome as this century rolls on. Since the horse itself has no idea what money is, it is refreshing to watch them compete. Making a few bucks on a mobile wagering app doesn't hurt either
rollyhoyt More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure it will lead to some huge renaissance, but one can't ignore the availability of mobile wagering apps and the effects they had on this year's Derby handle. After almost a decade where advance wagering pretty much painted the odds in place Saturday morning, we saw a major run on Bodemeister late in the wagering cycle. There's no way Churchill's mutuel lines became massively more efficient. It has to be a maturing account wagering system and a large pool of casual fans who embraced the mobile app. I'm thinking millions of dollars from casual Derby fans made it into the pools where in previous years, those rookies would have been shut out or limited in what they would have played by the crushing lines. Those players probably came prepared only with a Derby opinion and took advantage of the app but largely ignored the rest of the card because they never go to the Derby expecting to play those races anyway. It's pretty good circumstantial evidence, though I'm not sure CDI would release those numbers. The challenge now is to get those casual Derby players to bet more on other races knowing the app will help them. From there, hopefully, the comfort-level for these players grows through t the new technology and they're convinced to come out on other days/nights during the year.
Ed Castrege More than 1 year ago
There is an easy explanation; the Cal runners are once again valid, as SA has gone back to dirt. All the serious players we not commit big $$$ where the synthetic preps are concerned. Now that one can "gauge" Cal runners again, the money has come back.
avlamal More than 1 year ago
what racing needs to really xplode is some kind of partnership with hollywood in an advertising campaign coupled with a national media blitz the young fan is the key-racing is cool is the angle here get them hooked early family marketing as a destination spot for fun also key national tv ad campaign is key marketing its gambling virtues of u can figure out the winner with the big payoffs is a very important angle as opposed to the dumb luck of other gambling venues. have a commercial showing a mouse or cat finding the hidden food would be great.
jimi More than 1 year ago
A squirrel finding a nut
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Until there is the same blanket coverage of horse racing by the media, particularly in print and on-line, as there is in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, there is absolutely no chance of there being any increase in fan awareness between major events. Racing's problem is the vacuum that exists from mid-June until the first Saturday in May, each year. Fans in Europe are aware of the Classics; but, for them, the challenge of picking winners each day, from large fields in wide open handicaps that return good prices, is far more fun than a mindless, computer-generated lottery tickets. Nowadays newspaper coverage in North America is virtually extinct. And in Toronto, where I live, they give more space to the results than the entries, which is the most bizarre and counter-productive thing I've ever seen.. After all...its what's about to happen that matters...not yesterday's news!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A more interesting question is, how many more Racing Forms were sold for this year's Derby?
Chalk Eating Weasel More than 1 year ago
I can understand CD's reluctance to allow 0.10 cent supers on Derby day. How many people get shut out on big race days because there is some cheap superfecta player camped out at the terminal making it up as he goes, with no idea of what he's actually playing, taking 5 minutes to attempt to play every possible combo 1 ticket at a time. I play pick 3's and pick 4's on multiple tickets, and sometimes I myself will spend what seems like to me an inordinant amount of time at the terminal. The difference is, I don't wait until 3 MTP to go play my tickets and I have my tickets planned, including allowances for scratches, before I go to the terminal. There is really no reason for superfecta players and multi-race players to wait to the last minute to begin thinking about their wagers. Perhaps if players of these types of wagers learn to show a little courtesy towards their fellow players, CD can reconsider their policy regarding the $0.10 super on Derby day
Brian Russell More than 1 year ago
They will NEVER show the courtesy you describe. Just yesterday I was behind a guy who took over 7 minutes to bet $1.30. The 10 cent super not only holds up lines but I wonder if it really increases handle. Supers used to be half my handle and are now virtually nil because the chance of having the only ticket or one of only two is now dramatically lower.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
10 cent supers for on-line only.............and not at the derby..they allowed 50 cent tri's, lets keep the Super a potential million dollar payout!!
Chalk Eating Weasel More than 1 year ago
I am all for players choosing how to play their own money and have nothing against $0.10 supers or $0.10 tri's for that matter. These bets become an issue when super and tri players walk up to a terminal 3 MTP with no idea what they intend to play and stand there looking at there PP's trying to figure out there tickets with the clock running and the line lengthening behind them. Are these players so oblivious to the patrons behind them, or do they just not care? How much can it matter to a super or tri player if their key horse drops from 4/1 to 7/2 just before post time, really? Oh that's right, most of these players aren't really 'capping. They're just throwing s%*t against the wall and hoping something sticks. I wish these guys would play in the pools I'm in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could it be more people going to Racinos, ergo motive and opportunity to bet. And exposure to the significant event with a '20 factor proposition' and some knowledge and history of big payoffs vs $5 for their $2 bet. A review of the source of the bets will explain the increase. Babyboomers-plus are gambing at slots, State lotteries, Bingo and this is a big ticket return for their investment. $96 K super, just bet your grandkids ages, etc. Also, I wonder if there were some regional, East/West money headers. For sure, it is not, and this I'll take 4-5, tweeters and fabookers. The US population (lottery-types) experienced the largest payoffs in history this year. The Derby, I believe now has become one of the money pots available in the US where a wager can come back as a life changer. And this Derby looked wide open.
Cee Valentine More than 1 year ago
Weekend In Kentucky http://bit.ly/JpX1Hf