Meet highlights included a spectacular renewal of the Kentucky Derby that attracted the second largest crowd in its history and saw the "Run for the Roses" become the first in U.S. history to attract more than $100 million in wagering on a single race. Kentucky Derby Day also established a North American record for wagering on a racing day and the Kentucky Oaks smashed its record for all-time attendance.
The historic racetrack's new areas and its increased emphasis on guest service throughout the facility helped boost its on-track performance, but its overall results continued to reflect the expansion of gaming competition in its region and competition for horses from tracks in racing states with purses that continue to be bolstered by slot machine revenues and other expanded gaming. Field sizes declined slightly during the meet, a concern that can be partly attributed to the increased competition for horses.
On-track wagering and attendance, both of which declined in a 53-day meet in 2004 that was hindered by construction of the track's new clubhouse, rebounded strongly in this year's session. On-track wagering for this year's 52-day session totaled $95,976,633, an increase of 10 percent from last year's total of $87,236,407. An average of $1,845,704 was wagered on-track each day, a rise of 12.1 percent from the daily average of $1,645,970 in 2004. The Spring Meet attendance total rose to 718,270, an increase of 13.4 percent from last year's total of 633,616. The meet's average daily attendance rose to 13,813, a jump of 15.5 percent from last year's figure of 11,955.
While on-track wagering registered healthy increases, off-track betting declined and contributed to a small decrease in daily averages for total wagering during the meet. Off-track wagering on the meet totaled $489,220,707 for the 52-day session in 2005, a decrease of 3.9 percent from the 53-day total of $509,135,463 in 2004. Average daily off-track wagering in 2005 stood at $9,408,091, a decline of 2.1 percent from the 2004 average of $9,606,329.
The decline in off-track wagering contributed to a drop in total wagering on Churchill Downs races during the spring session. Total wagering for the meet - which includes on-track betting and all money wagered at off-track sites and simulcast centers - stood at $585,197,340 after the meet's 52 days. That reflected a decrease of 1.9 percent from the 53-day total of $596,371,870 for 2004. The daily average for total betting in the just-completed meet stood at $11,253,795, which reflected a small increase of .01 percent from the 2004 average of $11,252,299.
Among the factors that contributed to the declines in off-track and total wagering was a drop in the average number of betting interests per race during the Spring Meet. Races during the 2005 session average 8.26 starters per race, a slight decline from the average of 8.48 betting interests that competed in the Spring Meet of 2004 and a sharper drop from the average of 8.88 wagering interests in the 2003 spring racing session. This year's decline occurred as competition for horses intensified with racetracks in racing states that offer race purses supplemented by revenues from slot machines and other alternative gaming.
Field sizes at Churchill Downs also felt the impact of quarantines ordered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Sections of two barns at Trackside Louisville training center were quarantined for the equine bacterial disease known as strangles in March. A similar quarantine in Florida affected a number of Kentucky-based horses as it limited their training and delayed their departure for Kentucky. Then, shortly after the Spring Meet opened, three Churchill Downs barns were placed under quarantine following the confirmation of cases of the contagious equine herpes virus. More than 90 horses were affected by that quarantine and kept out of competition for nearly a month.
Total wagering for the 2005 Churchill Downs Spring Meet included a record-smashing 131st renewal of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7. A crowd of 156,435 gathered for the first Derby held in the renovated Churchill Downs - the second largest attendance figure in the history of America's greatest race - and saw Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Moss' 50-1 longshot Giacomo shock 19 opponents with a stretch-running victory.
Wagering on the Derby itself totaled $103,325,518, marking the first time that more than $100 million had been wagered on a single race in North America. Total betting on the Derby's 12-race program rose to a North American record of $155,133,631, an increase of nine percent from the previous daily racing record of $142,848,289 established on Derby Day 2004. On-track wagering on the 12-race Derby Day program rose by 22 percent to $22,117,166, which eclipsed a record established in 2003. On-track betting on the Derby itself in 2005 was $10,055,508.
A record crowd of 111,243 attended the Kentucky Oaks Day card on Friday, May 6. On-track wagering topped the $12 million mark for the first time and total wagering on the Oaks Day racing card topped $31 million.
"Churchill Downs' first racing meet in its completely renovated facility will be memorable for many things, but mostly for the smiles on the faces of patrons who enjoyed our new facilities and the top level guest service provided in our new racetrack," said Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs. "We are excited about the public response to our new amenities and improved service, and we deeply appreciate the efforts of our Churchill Downs team, which worked non-stop for weeks to get the track ready for its public unveiling during Kentucky Derby Week and maintained that high level of performance throughout the meet.
"Although the meet's on-track results were encouraging and gratifying, they could have been even better if not for the increasing competitive pressures from a continued expansion of gambling in our market and throughout the region," continued Sexton. "Casino competition, present in our market since late 1998, continues to grow and mature. And our daily racing program faces increasing pressure from competition for horses from states such as West Virginia, which has sent its race purses boosted significantly from revenues from expanded gambling and slot machines. More racetracks in racing states such as New York and Pennsylvania will boost their purses and improve their racing product through slot revenues in the coming months. Those developments will only intensify the competition for horses, so the size of our race fields looms as a long-term competitive concern."
Race purses for the 2005 Spring Meet rose slightly from the year before. Purses paid during the meet totaled $25,164,885, an increase of 2.9 percent over the 2004 total of $24,463,392. Daily purses averaged $483,940 - an increase of 4.9% percent from last year's average of $461,573.
Jockey Rafael Bejarano earned his second consecutive Spring Meet title as leading rider as the 23-year-old Peruvian collected 64 wins to finish well ahead of runner-up Robby Albarado, who won 51 races. Bejarano became the first jockey other than Hall of Fame leg/files/storyimages/Pat Day to win back-to-back "leading rider" crowns in the Spring Meet since Julio Espinoza earned three consecutive titles from 1978-80.
Jordan Charkoudian finished with seven wins and was both the leading apprentice and leading female jockey in the meet.
The title of "leading trainer" went to Louisville native Dale Romans, who earned his fifth title in six years. Romans, who started slowly as his stable rebounded from the strangles quarantines in Kentucky and Florida, ended up with a runaway victory as his stable collected 36victories. Joe Woodard and Steve Asmussen, the 2004 Spring Meet leader, tied for second with 20 victories each.
Woodard, another native of Louisville, enjoyed his most successful Churchill Downs meet and included in his victory total was a record 10-race winning streak that erased the previous standard of eight straight wins set by Patrick Byrne in 1997.
Louisville automobile dealer Billy Hays, Woodard's primary owner, earned his first ever title as leading owner as he finished the meet with 19 victories and snapped a string of five consecutive Spring Meet titles by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. The runner-up spot went to the Ramseys, who finished one back of Hays, and Richard, Elaine and Bert Klein finished third with 11 wins.
The competition in the Spring Meet got off to a rousing start with the victory by Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby and a front-running victory by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC's Summerly in the 131st running of the Kentucky Oaks. Adding spice to the week/files/storyimages/were upset victories in Derby Weekend's other Grade I races as Mill House's America Alive took the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and Carl Pollard's My Trusty Cat won the Humana Distaff.
"Stephen Foster Super Saturday," a spectacular day of racing that included six stakes races with $1.75 million in purses, saw a brilliant performance by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren's Saint Liam as the Bobby Frankel-trained son of Saint Ballado won the day's main event, the $750,000-added, Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap.
Another brilliant performance included a dominating victory by Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Kitten's Joy, America's 2004 turf champion, in the $250,000-added, Grade II Firecracker Breeders' Cup on the Matt Winn Turf Course on July 4. Other highlights included a win by Summerplace Farm's Kelly's Landing in the Grade III Aristides Breeders' Cup. The win came in his stakes debut and he broke a track record for six furlongs that had been set by sprint champion Kona Gold in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint. And Saud bin Khaled's Delta Princess and B. Wayne Hughes' Don't Get Mad were two-time stakes winners during the meet. Delta Princess notched Grade III turf wins in the Early Times Mint Julep and the Locust Grove, while the 3-year-old Don't Get Mad won the Derby Trial on opening day and the Grade III Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup on Stephen Foster Super Saturday. Stephanie Clark's Silverfoot scored his second consecutive victory in the Grade III Louisville Handicap at a mile and three-eighths on the turf and Robert and Beverly Lewis' Senor Swinger took the Opening Verse Handicap for the second year in a row. Gretchen and Jay Manoogian's Battle Won scored an upset victory in the Grade II Churchill Downs Handicap and finished second in the Aristides Breeders' Cup.
Ellen's Foxy Girl won four races in as many starts and was the meet's leading winner. Scat Cat Jamey, Set To Sparkle and Mean Kisser each won three of four starts during the meet.