05/07/2007 12:00AM

Derby handle takes dip; first decline in 16 years


All-sources wagering on Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and its undercard declined for the first time in 16 years, according to figures released by the racetrack.

Though the declines were marginal, down 0.1 percent on the Derby and 4.1 percent on the card, wagering on the Derby and its undercard has grown astronomically over the past decade and a half, fueled by a large rise in the number of wagering outlets and the emergence of account wagering. In many of those years, growth compared to the previous year was in the double digits.

The wagering figures were being watched closely by many racing officials this year because of the blackout of the Derby card on two popular account-wagering services, Youbet.com and Television Games Network. It was the first time that the two networks had been unable to carry the race.

All-sources wagering on the Derby itself was $118,317,714, a dip of only $109,160 compared with the record of $118,426,874 established last year. All-sources wagering on the 12-race card was $168,018,982, a decline of 4.1 percent from last year's record total of $175,129,090.

Wagering on the Derby was up 13.6 percent last year compared with 2005.

The all-sources whole-card decline was mostly attributable to a 4.5 percent drop in out-of-state wagering on the card, as ontrack handle was down only 1.6 percent. Though Churchill officials declined to break out account-wagering figures, the totals from account wagering are included in the out-of-state numbers.

Steve Sexton, the president of Churchill, attributed the declines to small field sizes in three of the races on the card. The first and fifth races both had six-horse fields, while the sixth race had a five-horse field.

Attendance on a warm but overcast day was reported as 156,635, a 0.6 percent decline from last year's figure of 157,536. The attendance figure was the third-highest in Derby history.

The Derby itself had a full field of 20 horses and a tepid favorite in Street Sense, who was 9-2, two factors that tend to support strong betting. The Derby is also famous for its sometimes astounding exotic prices, leading to strong wagering totals in the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta pools.

Though exotic wagering was once again strong, the Derby produced prices that were less than life-changing, with the exception of the superfecta. The exacta, with Street Sense on top and the 10-1 Hard Spun on bottom, paid $101.80 for a $2 bet. The trifecta, with the race's second choice, the 5-1 Curlin, on bottom, paid $440 for a $2 bet. The $2 superfecta, with the 29-1 Imawildandcrazyguy on bottom, paid $29,046.40.

A double linking Friday's Kentucky Oaks to the Derby paid $23.80. Rags to Riches, the favorite, won the Oaks.

The Oaks was also blacked out on Youbet.com and TVG, both of which failed to come to terms with Churchill Downs's new partnership with Magna Entertainment Corp., TrackNet Media, on an agreement to carry the Derby. In order to wager on the Derby, bettors who are regular customers of Youbet and TVG had to either open an account with a competing service - which could have included Churchill's newly launched account-wagering platform, twinspires.com - or travel to a simulcast location.

On a conference call two weeks ago, Gary Sproule, the chief financial officer of Youbet.com, said that Youbet.com, TVG, and Youbet's offshore rebate shop, International Racing Group, accounted for 7 percent of all wagering on the Derby card in 2006. International Racing Group was also blacked out of the Derby this year.

The overnight television rating for the broadcast on NBC was an 8.3, up 12 percent from last year's broadcast, according to figures released by NBC on Sunday.

The rating this year was tied for the highest Derby rating since 1992. In 2001, 2002, and 2004, the overnight rating for the broadcast was also an 8.3.

Overnight television ratings measure the number of estimated viewers in large U.S. markets, as determined by the broadcast research company Nielsen Media Research. Each overnight rating point is equivalent to approximately 667,000 households.

The broadcast, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., had a share of 18. Share measures the percentage of televisions in use that were tuned to the broadcast.

Final television ratings were to be available on Tuesday, according to NBC.