Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bigger or better, the 2012 Derby proved once again to be the pre-eminent horse race event on the planet, setting several records. Paid attendance this year (>165,000) surpassed last year’s record. Total all day betting handle from all sources of $187m beat the 2006 record and an astounding $133m bet on The Derby alone was up 19% from last year for a new record on THE race. This increase in betting was in large part due to the best field in years, which was quite impressive and flush with talent. Bets placed on site at Churchill alone for the entire 13 race card of $23.7m with $12.3m of that on The Derby is indicative of the interest in the 5 additional graded stakes races and undercard this year.
The Winner: I’LL HAVE ANOTHER was another first, starting from the 19th post and with his rider Mario Guitterez making his debut at Churchill. I examined this colt several times during the week pre-Derby. He is a powerfully built “frisky” good looking chestnut KY bred son of Flower Alley who entered as the 10th highest earnings horse in the field. During the week he had two inspiring works. He got a perfect trip unimpeded throughout the race with a driving convincing finish. He just ran off.! If he runs a like race in Baltimore, he has a good chance to beat Bodemeister and Dullahan again in The Preakness. We are so overdue for a new Triple Crown winner.
It’s not all just about the “boys” (Derby). This year was also the 138th running of The Kentucky Oaks on the day before The Derby. This year’s winner BELIEVE YOU CAN is trained by Larry Jones, the most “down to earth” nice guy trainer you can’t help but admire and respect. This filly won with Rosie Napravnik aboard, the first time a female rider has won this prestigious race. And then Rosie came back to win the next and final race of the day on another Larry Jones ‘up and comer’ filly, Totally Tucker.
Oaks day provided plenty of excitement and glamour with a large majority of fans traditionally dressed in pink. Paid attendance was >112,000 including the 20,000+ in the infield. Between the 9th and 10th races, the threat of a huge impending storm caused Churchill to evacuate the infield. Where those thousands of fans ended up is still a mystery to me. But the storm skirted the track and races proceeded with about a 45 minute delay.
The Derby Festival is such a gala event for Kentucky and Louisville in particular. The month long event brings in about $128m to the Louisville economy. Just on Derby day, the state government gets about $1m in tax dollars. Churchill brings in at least a dozen executive chefs for the numerous fancy club rooms and Millionaires Row. Over 1,200 food and meal workers scramble all day to keep the throngs of fans fed. The liquor served is thousands of gallons. It is The Derby, after all.
But in the weeks and days preceding The Race; the shopping, public events, and night life scene in this town just goes whacko. Basketball, volleyball, golf tournaments, and marathons, fashion shows, wine and bourbon tastings (hooda thunk), and on and on. For this year’s Thunder over Louisville, the largest fireworks show in North America, they brought in 18 semi loads of explosives, over 54 tons. Those figures are staggering to me. Is there any other event where people spend more for a hat (upwards of $1500) than on their $1200 dress and $500 shoes? The entirety of the festival rivals any single ‘event’ in America including the Indy 500 and Super Bowl.
The thoroughbred breeding and racing industry is truly a Kentucky phenomenon for over 150 years.
I’ve said it before: There aint nuthin’ like THE DERBY.!!
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