Kentucky Derby Betting Handle Drops 52%

  • Total handle for the 2020 Kentucky Derby was $79.4m, a 52% drop from a record handle in 2019
  • The race took place on September 5 instead of early May because of COVID-19
  • Total handle for the 14 races was $128.3m, a year-on-year drop of 49%
  • Officials said no spectators, smaller fields, and prohibitive favorites were factors for lower handle
Chruchill Downs entrance
The total betting handle for the 2020 Kentucky Derby fell by 52% largely because no spectators were permitted at Churchill Downs. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A disappointing result

Total betting handle for the 2020 Kentucky Derby fell by 52% year-on-year. The race took place four months later than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

one of the most watched sporting events each year

The total handle for the race was $79.4m, a drop from the record $165.5m seen in 2019. The race took place this year on September 5, though it usually runs on the first Saturday in May. It is normally the highlight of the horse racing season in the United States and is one of the most watched sporting events each year.

Almost all of the different types of betting pools saw their handles drop. The main exception was multi-leg bets for the race, particularly the pick six option.

The total handle for all 14 races of the festival was $128.3m, more than any other racing festival so far in 2020. This was still a drop in the full card handle of 48.9%, and the lowest total handle for the festival since the 2002 renewal. 

Multiple reasons for the drop

There were no spectators allowed at the Derby this year due to pandemic restrictions. Last year, Churchill Downs hosted more than 150,000 people on Derby day, with $21.3m wagered at the track. Churchill Downs officials also pointed to smaller fields for the races and prohibitive favorites as reasons why the betting handle was also down. 

None of the Nevada sportsbooks took part in the parimutuel pool for the race because of a continuing dispute they have with the racetrack regarding data fees. Thus, the sportsbooks only accepted non-parimutuel pool bets on the Kentucky Derby. 

Prohibitive favorite comes up short

The Kentucky Derby was the second leg of the Triple Crown this year, though it is normally the first. Because it was moved to September, the Belmont Stakes acted as the first leg in 2020. The winner of the Derby was Authentic, an 8/1 shot. The favorite, Tiz the Law, went off at 4/5 and finished second.

about 48% of the total handle for the race was on Tiz the Law

According to William Hill data, about 8% of the bets it took on the race were for Authentic to win, while about 48% of the total handle for the race was on Tiz the Law. 

The Preakness Stakes is the final leg of the Triple Crown this year and is set to take place in Baltimore on October 3 with no spectators. No horse is in the running to win the Triple Crown this year.