Sporting events being conducted without spectators are something we’ll be talking about for generations. The first industries to see this transpire are the UFC, NASCAR and horse racetracks around the country.
As we highlighted last week, many tracks around the country reopened this past weekend. The results were nothing short of amazing as tracks saw handles increase at record levels. It’s another indication that bettors are back and willing to come out strong following the COVID-19 shutdown.
While the only noise you can hear are horses, hoofbeats and the track announcer, the handle numbers reveal sizable audiences around the country were interested in wagering on the races from the comforts of their homes.
According to Churchill Downs, $14,278,726 was bet on Saturday's 11-race card, up 183.7 percent from the $5,032,253 handled on a comparable date in 2019. Churchill was strengthened by a national television audience tuning in on FOX Sports 1 and 2.
Thoroughbred racing at Charles Town racetrack witnessed a record handle for a non-Charles Town Classic Day on May 14, as $4,330,203 was wagered on the nine-race program. The amount wagered represents the fifth-largest handle in the track's near 87-year history, trailing only the Charles Town Classic events held in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2019.
Santa Anita came back strong on Friday, the first time racing had been held at the Southern California racetrack since March 22. The handle was $11,207,076 for nine races, a huge increase over the same days in 2019, when Santa Anita handled $6,974,738 for eight races.
The track saw a 184 percent increase compared to the last Friday the track operated prior to the coronavirus shutdown. On Saturday, the track did $14.3M in handle compared to $6.1M on the last Saturday (March 21) before the shutdown.
Churchill Downs announced back on March 16 that the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby was moved from May 2 to September 5. On Saturday horse racing fans got some more great news when it was announced that another leg of the Triple Crown, the 145th Preakness Stakes, has been rescheduled for October 3. Traditionally held at Pimlico Race Course on the third Saturday in May, the Preakness was postponed April 3 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Under normal circumstances, I would be standing at Pimlico ... presenting the Woodlawn Trophy to the winner of the 145th Preakness Stakes," said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. "But as we all know these are not ordinary circumstances. However, I am proud to make this announcement on behalf of the state, the Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland's historic racing industry.”
At a time when there were no live American sporting events outside of the UFC and NASCAR, horse racing was front-and-center and there is no doubt fans were ready for the sport to return to tracks nationwide.
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