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Controversy-Mired Kentucky Derby Set Betting Record

Dave Royse

All-source wagering — including at-the-track bets and online wagers — was the highest ever for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, as was the betting handle for the entire Derby Day card of races, according to the thoroughbred racing publication The Blood Horse.

Country House won the Derby on a sloppy track after the horse that finished first, Maximum Security, was disqualified for an illegal in-race move in the premier race for 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg in racing’s Triple Crown, the others being the Preakness Stakes in Maryland and the Belmont in New York.

Derby Betting Topped $165M

Betting on the Kentucky Derby was 10-percent higher than last year’s previous betting record, hitting $165.5 million from all sources, according to Churchill Downs, Inc. (NASDAQ: CHDN), owner of the iconic track in Louisville, Kentucky that’s home to the Derby. That broke last year’s record of $149.9 million in bets. 

All-source wagering on the daylong program of races at Churchill on Saturday hit $250.9 million, also setting a new record, and was up 11 percent from last year.

The handle on the Derby benefited from $4.1 billion that was bet in Japan in the first year that wagering on the Derby was available in that country.

Churchill Downs' online betting operation, TwinSpires, had a handle of $30.2 million on the Derby, up 23 percent over last year.

The handle record is good news for Churchill, which said in its annual report that it gets a significant portion of its racing revenue each year during Kentucky Derby week.

Despite the handle, Churchill Downs stock was trading down Monday. 

Maximum Security led the race wire-to-wire. But two jockeys appealed once it was over, claiming Maximum Security had moved into the path of another horse, War of Will, which then had to make a reactionary move that impeded the paths of two others horses.

Track stewards reviewed the complaint for more than 20 minutes before agreeing and disqualifying Maximum Security. Country House, which finished second, became the winner.

It was the first disqualification for an on-track infraction in the history of the race, which has been run every year since 1875. Dancer’s Image was disqualified after the 1968 Derby, but it was for testing positive for an illegal medication.

Maximum Security’s owner, Gary West, said Monday on “The Today Show” on NBC that the field of 19 horses was too big, and said Churchill Downs is a “greedy organization” for trying to pack so many horses into the race. The Derby ought to have 14 horses like many other thoroughbred races, he said. 

Country House went off at 65-1 odds, making him the second-biggest longshot ever to win the Derby.

Somebody cashed a ticket on a $2,500 bet on Country House for $133,000, according to sports betting website ActionNetwork.com.

Attendance of 150,729 at the Derby this year was down 4 percent over last year, but Saturday’s weather was dreary and rainy.

In addition to its namesake track in Louisville, Churchill Downs owns the Arlington Park race course outside of Chicago and the top online horse racing betting platform, TwinSpires.com.

Churchill Downs stock was down 2.68 percent at $99.61 at the time of publication Monday. 

Related Links:

2019 Kentucky Derby Preview: Why Maximum Security Is More Than Just A Name

24 Stocks Moving In Monday's Pre-Market Session

Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Derby. 

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