Betting on the Kentucky Derby was down for the third straight year, although one Las Vegas player didn’t notice after hitting an improbable Superfecta worth nearly $300,000.
According to Churchill Downs race track, wagering on the Kentucky Derby from all sources fell 8.7 percent this year compared to 2008. It was the third straight year that betting has declined.
Total betting on the race was $104,563,501, down from $114,557,364 bet on the Derby last year. Twenty horses ran in the Derby in 2008, whereas this year’s Derby field was reduced to 19 by the scratch of morning-line favorite I Want Revenge on the morning of the race.
Churchill Downs also reported that attendance on Derby day was 153,563, down about 2.6 percent compared to attendance of 157,770 last year.
In Las Vegas, casinos reported that betting was also less than previous Kentucky Derbies, although no firm statistics were available.
"We had decent crowds who seemed to enjoy the parties and promotions, but the betting action was relatively light," said a sports book supervisor at one of Las Vegas’ "locals" casinos. "We think the last minute withdrawal of I Want Revenge and the previous defection of Quality Road certainly dampened the enthusiasm of serious horse players."
The supervisor added that high-stakes horse players often back favorites, such as the scratched I Want Revenge and Quality Road, with sizable "straight" wagers (win, place and show), as well as a mixture of exotic bets, such as exactas and trifectas.
Without any clear-cut favorite, bettors often hold back on their "serious" wagers and instead simply play a few, off-the-wall bets with which to enjoy the race.
"Although Friesan Fire went off as the 7-2 betting favorite, there wasn’t a lot of conviction behind those bets," the supervisor said. "The same could be said for the other horses that received marginal support – Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile."
The Derby winner, Mine That Bird, was a shocker at odds of 50-1, but there was no rush to the pay windows to cash out after the race.
"We cashed a few small bets on Mine That Bird," the race book supervisor said. "They were mostly of the $2 variety. Many of them, in fact, looked like part of a strategy in which the player bet a couple of bucks on every horse in the race."
The biggest winner, at least in Las Vegas, didn’t need to bet every horse to catch a Superfecta that paid $278,500.
The winner, a Las Vegas car salesman named Phil (he asked to withhold his last name), "boxed" five horses on a $1 Superfecta ticket, which he purchased at Santa Fe Station’s race book. A Superfecta requires picking, in the correct order, the top four finishers in the race.
The cost of the ticket was $120 (120 combinations at $1 each). Phil said that he wanted to buy a regular $2 Superfecta, which would have cost $240, but he only had $200 to spend.
If he had bet a $2 Superfecta, the payoff would have been $557,006.
But it’s not likely the car salesman will be experiencing any buyer’s remorse. He was scheduled to pick up his winnings on Monday afternoon.
Phil says he bought the winning ticket strictly on the numbers. He’s not a regular horse player and certainly not a handicapper.
Based partially on Chinese lore that deems 2, 5 and 8 as lucky numbers, Phil said he used those three plus 7 and 16 to round out his 5-horse Superfecta ticket.
The rest, as they say, is pari-mutuel history.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: David Stratton