05/07/2006 11:00PM

Derby handle a record

The 20-horse Kentucky Derby field attracted win, place, and show wagers totaling more than $49 million.

Wagering and attendance figures at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday for the 2006 were up across the board, establishing North American betting records for a single race and a single card.

All-sources betting on the Kentucky Derby was a record $118,426,674, up 13.9 percent over last year's all-sources wagering total of $103,985,374. The Derby field included 20 horses in both 2005 and 2006.

All-sources betting on the 12-race Derby card this year jumped 12.4 percent, to $175,129,090 from $155,840,495 last year, also for a 12-race card. The results solidify Churchill's Derby Day card as the most attractive of any racing day on the North American racing calendar. Only the Breeders' Cup card has attracted more than $100 million in wagers on one day. That event's record, $124 million, was set last year at Belmont Park for a 10-race card.

In addition, Churchill Downs announced that attendance was 157,536 on Saturday, the second-largest crowd to attend a Derby and up 0.7 percent over last year's attendance figure. The temperature was in the mid-70's and the sky was mostly sunny on Saturday afternoon in Louisville, conditions that were nearly identical to the weather on last year's Derby Day. The Derby's official record attendance, 163,628, was established in 1974, before Churchill renovated its infield.

Despite the record-setting betting figures, the Derby failed to generate as much excitement outside the betting and racing world compared with last year. The overnight rating for the 98-minute Derby telecast on NBC fell 9.8 percent compared with last year, from 8.2 to 7.4, the lowest rating since NBC took over coverage in 2001. Share, the measure of the percentage of televisions in use tuned to the Derby broadcast, fell from 19 to 17. Final ratings will be released Thursday.

The record Derby betting results stemmed in part from a 20-horse field that bettors had difficulty separating, and partly from the Derby results last year, when Giacomo, at 50.30-1, led a parade of longshots across the finish line to trigger record payouts in every exotic pool, including a $1 superfecta price of $846,253.50. While the betting public this year did not settle on a favorite until the last minute before post, no horse was completely dismissed either, as skeptical bettors searched far and wide for this year's longshots.

The favorite in the race, Sweetnorthernsaint, went off at 5.50-1, the highest-priced favorite since Harlan's Holiday left the gate at 6-1 in 2002, and the second-highest-priced favorite in the 132-year history of the Derby. The eventual Derby winner, Barbaro, was the favorite until approximately one minute to post, when late betting on Sweetnorthernsaint drove that horse's odds from 7-1 to 5-1 in one flash of the tote board.

"We don't know exactly how much or where it came from, but the bet or the combination of bets had to be mammoth," said John Asher, a Churchill Downs spokesman, about the late flurry of action. "That is not a move you see very often."

Asher said Churchill mutuel officials would not be able to analyze betting patterns until Wednesday.

Most affected at the betting windows by last year's results were horses who, like Giacomo last year, were closers. Anticipating a hot pace, bettors drove Steppenwolfer and Jazil down to 16.30-1 and 24.20-1, respectively. Both were 30-1 on the morning line. The horses somewhat validated their support by finishing third (Steppenwolfer) and in a dead heat for fourth (Jazil with Brother Derek, the 3-1 morning-line favorite).

Barbaro paid $14.20 to win, $8 to place, and $6 to show. Bluegrass Cat, the 30-1 second-place finisher, paid $28.40 to place and $15.40 to show while triggering a $2 exacta payout of $587. Third-place Steppenwolfer paid $7.80 to show and filled out a $2 trifecta ticket that paid $11,418.

The win, place, and show pools totaled $49,682,267, up 17.5 percent from last year's $42,296,149. The exacta pool this year was $23,071,712, up 20.6 percent compared with $19,132,958 last year. The trifecta pool was up 22 percent, from $22,189,155 last year to $27,062,557.

Pool totals this year are somewhat difficult to compare with last year because Canadian bettors wagered into Churchill's commingled pools for the first time this year. In previous years, Canadians bet into separate pools. The total amount wagered, however, compares favorably because all wagers, separate or commingled, are included in the overall figure for both years.

The dead heat between Jazil and Brother Derek for fourth place required a split of the superfecta pool. The $2 superfecta using Jazil paid $84,860.40, and the $2 superfecta using 7.70-1 Brother Derek paid $59,839. This year's superfecta pool was $8,776,694, up 18.2 percent from last year's betting of $7,422,552.