Three Reasons To Expect A Record Handle For Kentucky Derby 150

Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

One of America’s greatest sporting events takes place this weekend. On Saturday evening, millions of Americans will gather around televisions, either at their homes or at parties, to watch the Kentucky Derby odds play out. 

Not only is the Derby one of the most popular sporting events to watch, but it’s also one of the most popular for wagering. Bettors wagered $188.7 million on the race last year, breaking the record of $179 million set the year prior. That happened even as fewer horses ran last year, and the presumptive favorite was scratched from the race earlier in the day.

Tossing out 2020 and 2021, when the Derby was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, wagering on the race has increased every year since 2017. That trend is unlikely to stop this year, and in fact, projects this Saturday’s race will see the all-sources handle top $200 million for the first time.

Here are three reasons why.

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A Historic Derby This Year

This year marks the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby, the oldest continuously held sporting event in the U.S. Churchill Downs has been planning for years for this milestone event. It invested hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and renovations, with the most prominent upgrade – the $200 million paddock, where horses are prepared for the race – debuting this week.

Milestone events are typically big occasions, especially for events like the Kentucky Derby. In 1974, a crowd of 163,628 celebrated Derby 100, a record mark that stood for 38 years. With technology now enabling more people to wager on the Derby (more on that in a minute), it only stands to reason that we’ll see another record fall on Saturday.

MORE: The Most Successful Jockeys In Derby 150.

Larger Derby Field Likely

As noted above, last year saw yet another increase in wagering even though only 18 horses entered the starting gate. The Kentucky Derby allows for up to 20 horses, and also-eligible horses can enter up through 9 a.m. Friday if an entered horse has scratched.

This year’s Derby field will likely include the maximum of 20 horses, and the prevailing wisdom in horse racing is that larger fields lead to increased wagering.

But we’re not just expecting the Derby itself to be a record-breaker. Last year, betting on the entire 14-race Derby Day card totaled $288.7 million. That figure has grown steadily every year since 2016. 

For perspective, wagering on all U.S. horse races totaled $11.65 billion in 2023. Churchill’s 14 Derby Day races made up just .04% of the 31,746 races held in America last year, but those races accounted for 2.5% of the total handle.

Last year’s all-sources handle beat the 2022 record by $14.9 million. If a similar increase happens this year, it will mark the first time the Derby Day card breaks $300 million.

FanDuel Opens Doors To New Bettors

The Derby handle has grown significantly over the years thanks first to simulcasting, which allowed other tracks to take bets on the race, and then the birth of online advance-deposit wagering, which allowed people to wager from their home or mobile device.

Last year marked another advancement in Kentucky Derby betting when FanDuel Kentucky became the first sportsbook to have its racing app connected with its sports betting app, meaning the two shared the same wallet. That opened the doors for many people who never previously had access to betting on the Derby or any other horse race.

The legalization of Kentucky sports betting now gives even more people in the state a chance to wager on the event. FanDuel is the second most popular online sportsbook in Kentucky, with its five-plus month handle of $478.6 million, trailing only DraftKings’ $499 million. That should help increase the handle even more.

But that growth won’t only happen in Kentucky. FanDuel’s racing app is available in 14 states where the Flutter Entertainment brand offers online sports wagering, meaning bettors in those states now have a chance to wager on the race without needing to download another app.

USA Today photo by Matt Stone.

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Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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