05/20/2017 8:59PM

Preakness Stakes betting falls just shy of last year's record

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Total handle on the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore fell just shy of the record set last year, while overall handle on the 14-race card set a record for the second straight year, according to charts of the races compiled by Equibase.

Betting on the Preakness this year was $60.2 million when counting all wagers that ended in the race, down 1.7 percent from the record of $61.3 million set last year. This year’s Preakness had 10 horses, while last year’s race had 11 horses.

Betting on the card was $97.96 million, according to charts, up 3.2 percent from $94.9 million last year. Handle rose despite a 6 percent drop in the number of horses who raced on the card, from 133 last year to 125 this year.

The record was set two weeks after record-setting handle figures for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and for the 14-race Derby card. The Derby card drew $207.5 million in wagers, the first time handle for a card at a North American racetrack had surpassed $200 million, with $138 million of the total bet on the Derby itself.

Both the Derby and Preakness records were set despite a crop of lightly raced, inconsistent 3-year-olds who have failed to capture the public’s imagination or captivate handicappers. The Preakness was won by Cloud Computing, a new shooter to the Triple Crown who narrowly edged last year’s 2-year-old male champion, Classic Empire, at the wire. The Derby winner and Preakness favorite, Always Dreaming, faded badly in the stretch to finish eighth.

Overnight television ratings for the race portion of the Preakness broadcast on NBC peaked at 6.2 with a 14 share, identical to the overnight figures for the race portion of the broadcast last year. NBC said the broadcast was the highest-rated sports broadcast of the weekend.

Last year at the Preakness, the weather was cold and rainy, while this year temperatures were crisp, and skies were overcast. Despite the poor weather last year, total handle on the Preakness was up 16.2 percent over the 2015 race, and total handle on the card was up 10.5 percent.

This year, betting in the Preakness win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta pools were all down from last year, but handle for the horizontal bets this year made strong gains, according to the charts. The pick-five handle was up 37.3 percent, while the daily double linking the Dixie Stakes and the Preakness was up 24.6 percent. Pick-three handle was up 19.5 percent, and the pick-four handle was up 16.3 percent.

After weak handle on early races, largely due to shorter fields than last year, wagering picked up markedly as the card moved into the slate of stakes races preceding the Preakness, according to the charts.

Pimlico announced record attendance of 140,327, the third straight year that the track has announced record attendance on Preakness Day. The attendance figures for all three Triple Crown races have invited skepticism from many longtime observers of the races.