If you’ve ever been to the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks, you know that it draws a good crowd. Tickets are in high demand and demand an even higher price. Fans pack the grandstand, clubhouse, infield, paddock, and the many additional seating (and standing) options Churchill Downs installs for Derby each year. But just how many people are really there on Derby Day?
In 2011, the attendance records for the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby reached an all-time high. A record 110,122 people attended the Kentucky Oaks to witness Plum Pretty’s victory. On the following day, a record crowd of 164,858 people saw jockey John Velazquez, who’d picked up the mount just a day earlier, guide Animal Kingdom to victory. The attendance for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby broke the record attendance of 163,628 which was set in 1974, on the 100th anniversary of the race. Since 2000, the combined attendance of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks has increased six percent.
To put these numbers in perspective, an average of almost 28,000 attended Churchill Downs’ Downs After Dark programs last summer. A crowd of 107,398 attended last year’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, MD, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Only 55,779 attended last year’s Belmont Stakes in Elmont, NY. Even when Smarty Jones was denied the Triple Crown by a late charging Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont Stakes, the record attendance of 120,139 paled in comparison to the Kentucky Derby’s attendance.
Photo: Kentucky Derby/Dan Dry