Despite coming off a year where we saw the first Triple Crown in nearly four decades, both handle and television ratings for the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday were down.
American Pharoah’s historic run through last year’s Triple Crown was supposed to give the horse racing industry a boost right? Not to mention the fact that California Chrome in 2014 captured the hearts and minds of many casual sports fans with his Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories.
However, television ratings were down 14% compared to overnight numbers a year ago.
Wagering on the Kentucky Derby itself totaled $123.3 million according to numbers in The Daily Racing Form, which was down nearly 10% off last year’s figure of $136.5 million.
Replay of 2016 Kentucky Derby
Attendance at Churchill Downs on Saturday was 167,277, down from last year’s record of 170,513.
The problem with the television ratings might be related to the fact that only a couple of Road to the Kentucky Derby points races were nationally televised.
Churchill Downs and the horse racing industry needs to get all of the final major preps televised, or the casual sports fan will have no idea who the 20 in the starting gate are.
— Courier-Journal.com (@courierjournal) May 8, 2016
That seemed to happen this year, as none of my friends who are sports fans but not horse racing fans could name any other horse other than Nyquist.
The prep races from the Fountain of Youth (G2) in late February right up the final major preps—the Blue Grass, Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby need to be on national television.
The would be eight one or two hour telecasts that NBC Sports Network and NBC need to broadcast so casual fans can get acquainted with the major contenders.
— DRF Formulator (@DRFFormulator) May 8, 2016
Handle was hurt by several ADW’s including TVG and possibly Twin Spires having meltdowns due to high traffic. This is not new, as it seems to happen every year, horseplayers unable to get their wagers in.
This is 2016, and I can’t think of any other industry that would have this problem. How do these ADW’s not have the technology to handle traffic on big days like the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup?
Horse racing did get a break with Nyquist winning the Kentucky Derby. At the very least casual fans are now familiar with the colt, who is now undefeated in eight career starts.
His connections are known by the casual fan after owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez teamed up to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another in 2012.
The colt would have been sent off as the heavy favorite in the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown hanging in the balance, but an injury knocked him out on the eve of the race.
Nyquist is likely going to face a weak field in Baltimore in two weeks, making his bid for the Triple Crown that much easier. Runner up Exaggerator is headed to the Preakness, but most of the rest of the Derby field will likely skip the race.
Among the probables so far are Cherry Wine and Laoban, who made the also-eligible list for the Derby but did not get in, and Awesome Speed, Collected, Stradivari and Uncle Lino.