Kentucky Derby a Gamblers Dream

Published Saturday, May 02, 2009 -

It is America's longest-running sporting event, the centerpiece of a multi-billion-dollar industry, that includes wagering world wide. In it's 135 year history the "Run for the Roses," has never faced the economic challenges it is experiencing today.

A crowd of 150,000 is expected to gather this Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Wagering is a big part of the excitement most people would agree. Often known as "most exciting two minutes in sports," the race is expected to draw some 14 million television viewers.

An economy that is limiting attendance and increased competition from online gambling sites and casinos have created changes in the racetrack business. On most days, live business at the racetrack is at a steady decline, with the exception of days like Derby Day.

Steve Crist, publisher and a columnist for Daily Racing Form, was quoted recently as saying, "So we have these huge coliseums like Church Hill Downs or Hollywood Park or Belmont Park where there might on a weekday only be 2,000 or 3,000 people rattling around a place built for 50,000,"

Despite the decline racetrack attendance, the Derby remains an American sports icon and a major draw for the gambling revenues that fuel the multi-billion dollar horseracing industry. More than $100 million worth of bets are placed each year on the Kentucky Derby alone.

For racehorse breeders, raising a Kentucky Derby winner is a bet with the longest odds in sport. Nearly 40,000 thoroughbreds are born in the United States each year. Of those approximately 23,000 will become racehorses, and of those only about 20 will make it to the Kentucky Derby. Those are really long odds, but when the bet pays off, breeding a derby winner brings prestige and a lot of money.

Mike Iavarone, co-owner of 2008 winner, Big Brown, "If you have a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby, the value of that racehorse exceeds your wildest imagination,"

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