05/07/2013 10:06AM

Kentucky Derby TV ratings up; weather dampens handle

Barbara D. Livingston
A crowd of 151,616 watched Orb win the Kentucky Derby, down 8 percent from last year's record attendance.

Overnight ratings for the Saturday Kentucky Derby broadcast on NBC skyrocketed this year while betting and attendance figures for the race suffered in comparison with last year’s record-setting event because of poor weather at the Louisville, Ky., track.

All in all, considering the wind and the rain, the Derby posted strong numbers for the second year in a row, with total handle on the race and the 13-race Derby Day card the second-highest figures of all time, just behind last year’s record numbers. Attendance dropped 8.8 percent from last year’s record, but the forecast of rainy and cold weather conditions all week had a significant impact on the track’s walk-up business, Churchill officials said.

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The overnight rating for the 6-7 p.m. portion of the broadcast on NBC surged 16.7 percent this year, from 9.0 last year to 10.5 this year, equaling the highest rating in the past 21 years of the race, NBC said. Share was up 15 percent, to a 23 from last year’s share of 20. The overnight rating is a preliminary measure of the number of viewers for a broadcast, while the share measures the percentage of televisions in use at the time that are tuned to a specific broadcast.

The Kentucky Derby is by far the most popular race in the United States, drawing more viewers and wagering handle than any other race on any other day of the year. Only the Belmont Stakes can draw as many viewers to a racing telecast, but only if a Triple Crown is on the line.

With 19 horses in the field this year compared with 20 last year, total betting on Saturday’s Derby was $130.5 million, down 2.2 percent from the record total of $133.5 million bet last year but still the second-highest figure of all time. Total commingled betting on the entire card was $184.6 million, down 1 percent from the all-time record of $187 million, also set last year.

The records last year were set after handle on the Derby surged 18.8 percent compared to the 2011 race, and after handle on the full card jumped 13.2 percent compared to the 2011 card.

Betting declined on a soggy day at Churchill in which reported attendance of 151,616 was down 8.3 percent from last year’s reported attendance record of 165,307. According to Churchill Downs, that smaller crowd accounted for ontrack wagering on the Derby of $11.5 million this year, down 7 percent this year from 2012. Ontrack betting on the entire card dipped 11 percent, from $23.7 million last year to $21.1 million, or $2.6 million, slightly more than the difference between all-sources wagering on the card last year and this year.

In addition, betting on the card may have been impacted by system problems reported by the two largest account-wagering companies in the United States. Twinspires.com, which is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., directed its patrons to a specific area of its site to make wagers after newer portals malfunctioned leading up to the Derby. TVG began reporting problems with its site halfway through the Derby card, and those issues continued to impact some customers even after the Derby had been run.

Churchill said, however, that handle through Twinspires.com, the market-leading account-wagering operation in the United States, was $19.5 million on Derby Day, up 11 percent from last year. Handle on the Derby itself was $10 million, up 10 percent from last year.

The Derby was won by Orb, the 5.40-1 favorite, one of the highest-priced favorites in Derby history. The second choice was Revolutionary, at 6.40-1, who finished third. The longshot Golden Soul, 34.50-1, finished second, triggering a $981.60 payoff for a $2 exacta and a $6,925.60 payoff for a $2 trifecta.

A $1 million-guaranteed pick six ending in the Derby attracted total bets of $1,170,941. The minimum wager for the Derby pick six is $2. Last year, handle on the pick six was $1.8 million, with a $500,000 guarantee. The forecast of bad weather may have had a significant impact on the amount of money that pick-six bettors were willing to wager.

One day before the Derby, bettors wagered $14.4 million on the Kentucky Oaks, a record for the race even though the race had only 10 fillies this year, compared with 14 fillies last year. Total handle on the Oaks Day card was $45.8 million, up 14.7 percent from the record set last year of $39.9 million. Ontrack wagering on the Oaks was a record $3.1 million, up 19.2 percent.

Attendance on Oaks Day was reported by Churchill at 113,820, the second-highest of all time, behind the record of 116,046 established last year.