Fans continue to enjoy betting on horse racing’s biggest events. Wagering from all sources on the 2019 Kentucky Derby set an all-time record with $165.5 million bet on the American Classic. That represented a 10% increase over last year’s Derby record handle of $149.9 million.
Wagering from all-sources on the Kentucky Derby Day program totaled $250.9 million, an 11% increase over the 2018 total and previous record of $225.7 million.
Handle includes betting from Japan
This year’s Derby handle included $4.1 million wagered in Japan — the first year Kentucky Derby wagering has ever been offered in the country. Many of those fans wagered on Master Fencer, the country’s first-ever Japanese-bred horse to run in the Kentucky Derby. Master Fencer made a solid showing at 58-1 odds, as he came from dead last at the mile marker to finish sixth in the field of 19.
Under Japanese Racing Association (JRA) rules, wagering can only be offered on selected foreign races, and only if a Japanese-based horse runs in the race. Due to Japan’s enormous betting volume, racetracks around the world have scrambled to lure Japanese-based horses to their races since the JRA relaxed its rules on imported simulcasts late in 2015.
Last year, Japan’s racetrack association handled the equivalent of $24.96 billion in wagers.
That’s more than twice the handle in the United States ($11.2 billion) in a nation with just more than a third of the U.S. population.
TwinSpires sets another wagering record
TwinSpires, the country’s leading online and mobile betting platform and the official betting partner of the Kentucky Derby, recorded $48.4 million in handle on Churchill Downs races for the Kentucky Derby Day program. That was a 20% increase over last year, and the Derby race itself drew $30.2 million online at TwinSpires, an increase of 23% over 2018. over the prior year.
Country House controversy
After crossing the finish line in second place, Bill Mott-trained Country House was awarded the victory when the winner Maximum Security was disqualified for interference near the top of the stretch. Mott and jockey Flavien Prat both won their first Kentucky Derby.
Maximum Security became the first winner disqualified for interference in the Derby’s 145-year history. Meanwhile, Country House closed at 65-1 odds to record the second-largest win payout in the history of the Kentucky Derby and biggest payout in more than 100 years. Country House paid $132.40 on a $2 win wager.
Disqualification impact on gambling
Nearly $9 million was bet on Maximum Security in the win pools, and thousands of people were waiting in lines at Churchill Downs and sportsbooks across the country ready to cash their winning tickets. But “when they changed the horse, the line went from full to empty,” said Scott Shelton, sportsbook shift manager at the Mirage in Las Vegas. “There were a lot of long faces.”
Betting on individual horse races is different from betting against a sportsbook or casino. Essentially, all the money bet on the big race for the Kentucky Derby is put into one large betting pool comprised of all the money wagered. Winning bets are paid by the racebook or racetrack from the entire pool of money wagered.
The track, in this case Churchill Downs, takes a percentage of the money bet on the Kentucky Derby off the top of the betting pool. The rest of the pool is split among the winning bettors. The track has no invested interest in the winner and result of the race.
Since Country House had less money bet on him to win, he was one of the biggest longshots with the highest odds at 65-1. Thus, his payout to win was huge and historic, and set off massive exotic pool payouts for the exacta, trifecta and superfecta as noted by TVG, a digital, cable and television network owned by the FanDuel Group.
The disqualification (DQ) did not change the amount that bettors won or lost overall, or affect Churchill Downs. However, Churchill Downs could have increased the handle had it decided to offer head-to-head betting on horses, where two horses are pitted against each other in a bet. Some sportsbooks offered such bets.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission gave preliminary approval to Churchill Downs to allow such bets at its April meeting. The commission did so after its staff reviewed the track’s request and found that it did not violate Kentucky racing laws. However, commission officials said they wanted to review the final format by April 29 for official approval.
Perhaps there will be more head-to-head wagering options at next year’s Derby. But the disqualification and controversial result will only add to future discussion and interest in betting. The longshot winner on Country House will have more bettors taking a shot for a big score and betting a few extra bucks on longshots and added exotic wagers in search of a big win.