Churchill Downs Pays Record Purses
Revenue from the 1,000 historical racing machines installed last September at Churchill Downs' Derby City Gaming has resulted in a record $32.2 million in prize money for horsemen at the Louisville, Kentucky racetrack. The total for the 145th Spring Meet, which ended June 29, was $9.9 million, 45 percent higher than last year's $22.2 million total.
Officials at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky said revenue from the nearly 1,000 historical racing machines at its Derby City Gaming venue helped boost purses to a record $32.2 million in prize money during the 38-day 145th Spring Meet, which concluded June 29. That was an increase of $9.9 million, or 45 percent over the $22.2 million paid during last year’s event.
Churchill Downs Inc. invested $65 million to open Derby City Gaming last September. Besides the slot-like games, it features two restaurants, a center bar and multiple entertainment options. Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said, “As promised, our investment into Derby City Gaming is paying immediate dividends and directly benefiting the city of Louisville and Commonwealth of Kentucky. We’ve improved our state’s valuable horseracing and agriculture industry with lucrative rewards for horsemen. The result was a thriving and ultra-competitive racing product with more entries and high quality horses that appealed to bettors and horseplayers nationwide.”
Racetrack statistics indicated that Spring Meet prize money for horsemen averaged $846,393 daily, compared to $584,796 in 2018. Excluding Kentucky Derby week purse offerings, $601,408 was paid daily over the final eight weeks of the meet versus $408,796 last year. The average purse per race was $86,459 compared to $59,737 in 2018. Officials said higher purses resulted in a larger average field size, up 8.8 percent to 8.5 horses per race from 7.8 starters per race in 2018.
All-sources wagering also increased by 11.4 percent or $51 million to $499.8 million compared with 2018 spring all-sources handle of $448.8 million—the fifth straight annual rise in Spring Meet betting over the prior year.
Regarding the Kentucky Derby, wagering on the 14-race program hit a North American record of $250.9 million. The derby alone attracted $165.5 million in handle, including $4.1 million from Japanese bettors who were able to participate for the first time. The threat of rain kept on-track viewers to 150,729, but the NBC broadcast attracted 18.5 million viewers and the NBC Sports app and NBCSports.com delivered a record average-minute audience of 130,400 viewers.
The controversial outcome of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserves resulted in the historic race’s first-ever disqualification. Maximum Security was disqualified with his hooves or legs, forcing the frontrunner to “jump out of the way,” and causing a veering domino effect, the video commentary argued. Frontrunner Maximum Security crossed the finish line first, but was later disqualified after an objection was raised by the owner of runner-up Country House. A review of the video showed that Maximum Security stumbled in the homestretch, altering the course of War of Will, Long Range Toddy, and Country House.
Country House, a 65-to-1 long-shot, was then declared the winner.