The running of the 144th Kentucky Derby may have produced a predictable winner, but the festivities provided plenty of unanticipated storylines. Even the victor, Justify, had a twist to his tale.
Even though he was the sixth-straight favorite to win the Derby, he broke the Curse of Apollo, a perceived malady that’s affected superstitious competitors for 136 years, by taking first place despite not racing as a 2-year-old.
That just scratches the surface, however, of what was an intriguing Run for the Roses that more than lived up to the hype and left horse race betting fans the world over thrilled and thoroughly entertained.
A Texas woman who preferred not to disclose her identity had perhaps the most memorable day of anyone involved in the Derby, including the horses. An incredible $1.2-million payday put her just about $200,000 short of Justify’s prize money for winning the actual race.
Yes, just one measly $18 wager made one lucky better a millionaire overnight, but with a score that big, it’s no shock it took way more than simply picking the favorite in the main race. While Justify was her easiest pick of the day by far, the woman also deftly called the winners of all four races leading up to the Derby .
It all started with Limousine Liberal taking the Churchill Downs Stakes, then Maraud followed it up winning the American Turf Stakes. Funny Duck, her third pick, beat 39-1 odds and then Yoshida’s narrow victory in the Old Forester Turf Classic as a 9-1 longshot set the stage for Justify’s theatrics.
The woman, an Austin, Texas native, won it all at Retama Park racetrack which was broadcasting the races at a Derby Day party. Spokeswoman for the track Rachel Bagnetto was dumbfounded by the incredible wager and win.
“It's extremely rare. To bet that little amount of money and win $1.2 million is unheard of. In fact, it's the first time it's happened at Retama.”
While the top three finishers in the final results weren’t particularly surprising with Audible showing and Good Magic placing, long-shot Instilled Regard had an inspired headline-making run.
He faced 90-1 odds at the starting gate but ended up in fourth place on the leaderboard gobbling up serious ground and zipping up the ranks in the final stretch. Shockingly, heavily touted horses Magnum Moon and Mendelssohn finished second-to-last and last respectively.
Magnum Moon represented one of legendary trainer Todd Pletcher’s chances to see one of his pupils win the Derby a second year in a row. Mendelssohn enjoyed some buzz as a co-favorite with some bookmakers last week leading up to the race.
Mendelssohn’s case was particularly interesting due to his journey competitively and geographically to Churchill Downs. Looking like a solid bet to be the first horse trained overseas to win it, Mendelssohn’s trip hit a snag and hampered his prep time slightly. Whether that travel played a factor in the poor finish can only be speculated upon.
The Derby set records in terms of overall bets made representing a marked increase for last year’s record numbers thanks in large part to online betting. While horse racing in the U.S. is widely considered to be less popular currently than in the past, the advent and continued development of the Internet age is helping the sport stay relevant.
“We are deeply grateful to all of the fans of the Kentucky Derby around the world who once again made this an amazing and memorable experience,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated. “We expect the Kentucky Derby Week Adjusted EBITDA to reflect another record with $11.0-to-$13.0 million of growth over last year.”
Churchill Downs reported a total of $225.7 million from all sources of betting on the Kentucky Derby Day program which represented an 8 percent increase from 2017 which totaled a then-record $209.2 million. $149.9 million was wagered on the Derby alone up 8 percent from last year’s $139.2 million.
Those kinds of figures make for a compelling case in favor of online wagering continuing to establish itself as a mainstream option for betters around the country. Furthermore, if a one-day event for a less popular sport like horse racing can generate such big nationwide interest, it’s not a stretch to believe online sports betting would be a very intriguing possibility.