LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - What an opening weekend it proved to be at Churchill Downs as racing resumed without fans. Bettors and sports fans had been waiting for live sporting events to come back.
The return to racing paid off with more than $26 million wagered in the Spring Meet's opening weekend. Churchill Downs made sure their reopening had plenty of top talent. Marty Maline, Executive Director of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association told us the return was exciting, "Wagering on Churchill Downs for the first two days was spectacular."
Back at the track without fans during Covid-19, Saturday headlined with Champions like Monomoy Girl winning again at Churchill, fans bet more than $14 million ($14,278,726) and Sunday more than $12 million ($12,326,917) was wagered for a two day spring meet total of $26,605,643, that's a 185% increase from the comparative Saturday and Sunday in 2019 with fans.
"I was so glad to see it," said Marty McGee of the Daily Racing Form. "I was in Florida all winter at Gulfstream Park and that's when the coronavirus crisis hit."
McGee believes without New York racing and sports like NBA and baseball to bet on, fans couldn't wait to watch what was happening at Churchill Downs. When asked if he believes the numbers also reflect some first time bettors and renewed interest in the sport, McGee said, "Hopefully, even watching from home, it's an enjoyable experience for people to participate in a way you can't with some other sports."
Meanwhile, Maline said of the horsemen, "They're so excited to have the opportunity to once again have their horses racing."
Maline agrees the numbers are great, but said it's always better to have people betting at the track because the horsemen get a bigger cut of the purses. It's why he hopes Churchill's safety precautions will be looked at by state leaders in the hope of getting some fans back into Churchill for the Derby because enthusiastic race fans play a big part in the sport.
"The Governor will see that everything is in place hopefully by September," Maline said. "We can have a great banner week."
The Churchill Downs Spring Meet resumes Thursday at 1 p.m.