Now that the Triple Crown races for 2017 are completed, an assessment can be made pertaining to the overall business outcomes of the triumvirate.

Kentucky Derby, May 6:

The telecast of the Derby had a rating of 10.5 and a share of audience of 23 (definitions for these terms are shown at the end of this article).  This was the second best performance in the past quarter century and the rating was an increase of 12.5% over 2016.   The race portion of the telecast had a rating of 9.3 and a TV audience of 19.1 million.

Kentucky Derby 143 was the most streamed ever with 281,000 unique visits—up 25% from last year.

Betting on the Derby program set a record with a handle of $209.2 million.  This was an improvement of 12% over 2016 and 8% better than the previous record of 2015.

The crowd at Churchill Downs was the seventh largest in the history of the race with 158,070 in attendance.

Preakness Stakes, May 20:

The telecast had a rating of 4.9 and a share of audience of 11.  The rating was 6.2 with a share of audience of 14 during the segment of the telecast that included the actual race.  These metrics should be viewed in context:  the Preakness earned the top rating for all sports telecasts on May 20, 2017.

The Preakness broke all attendance and wagering records.  Attendance was 140,327 versus 135,256 in 2016, a notable fact given the dilapidated condition of the Pimlico racing facility.  Betting handle for the entire Preakness program was $97.2 million, which was a 7.1% increase from 2016.

Belmont Stakes, June 10:

Absent the possibility of a Triple Crown champion and lacking the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Belmont business metrics predictably were tepid.  Attendance was 57,729 and handle for the card was $93.7 million, declines versus 2016 of 4% and 5.8%, respectively.  The 3-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival fared better, with handle increasing by 1.6% over last year to $124.7 million.

The Belmont telecast registered a rating of 3.4, a decrease of 21% from 2016, with the race portion having a rating of 4.3.  This was the least viewed Belmont since 2010.

By comparison, the primetime Major League Baseball telecast on Fox, beginning at 8 PM on June 10, 2017, had a rating among viewers 18-49 years old of 0.5, a share of 2.0, and an average audience of 2.31 million viewers.  Games in the Stanley Cup finals in hockey have been averaging a rating of 1.4 and games in the NBA finals so far are averaging a rating of 12.8.

Approximately $400 million was wagered on the combined race-day cards for the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.  This sum amounts to about 3.7% of current annual pari-mutuel handle in the United States.  Put differently, one tenth of one percent of all U. S. races account for 3.7% of handle, which vividly demonstrates the importance of the Triple Crown.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


The Nielsen Company definitions:

“Rating:  Estimated percentage of the universe of TV households tuned to a program in the average minute. ”

Share of audience:  The percent of households (or persons) using television who are tuned to a specific program, station, or network in a specific area at a specific time.”



1.  The Belmont Stakes traditionally has been called the “test of the champion.”  That appellation is more appropriate for the Epsom Derby in that a distance of 1 ½ miles is more common and more valued in Europe than it is in the United States.  Even in Europe, however, the superstar and undefeated Frankel never ran in a race beyond 10 furlongs and most of his starts came at a mile.

In America, the overwhelming majority of racehorses never run a race of 12 furlongs and most of the horses that compete in the Belmont don’t run the distance again.  The Eclipse Awards denoting champions are populated with horses that never ran 12 furlongs, as is the list of leading sires.

“Test of the champion” has a noble ring to it, but it is not factually true.

2.  Following are the average times for the Belmont Stakes in the decades since 1960:

1960-1969:  2 minutes 28.86 seconds

1970-1979:  2 28.78

1980-1989:  2 27.94

1990-1999:  2 28.51

2000-2009:  2 28.58

2010-2016:  2 29.61

To be really precise, the years when the Belmont was run on off tracks should be eliminated from the calculations.  Nonetheless, the figures are sufficiently representative to conclude that race times have not improved over the last 57 years.  On the other hand, the 21st century American-bred 3-year-old racehorse appears just as capable of running 12 furlongs as his ancestors from over a half century ago.  (This view is subject to change, however, if the average time for the decade 2010 through 2019 turns out to be about a second slower than previous decades.)

3.  Without the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, the on-track and television audiences for the Belmont are likely to be mediocre.  In fact, neither the winner of the Kentucky Derby winner nor Preakness winner will be in the race.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


The Investec Epsom Derby (the English Derby) bills itself as “the greatest flat race in the world.”  It certainly is the most famous and prestigious turf race.  The 238th edition will be run on Saturday June 3, 2017, at 4:30 PM (British time).  The race covers 1 mile 4 furlongs and 10 yards and has a purse of £1,625,000, the richest race ever in Great Britain.

The 20-entry field is dominated by three interests.  Coolmore Stud and its trainer Aidan O’Brien have seven horses entered; Godolphin has three entries; and trainer John Gosden trains five entries for various owners.  Thus these three account for 75% of the entries.  If that is not enough, Aidan O’Brien’s oldest son, Joseph, a two-time winner of the Epsom Derby as a jockey, trains another entry, though one not owned by Coolmore.

Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden have trained four of the last five winners of the Epsom Derby and Coolmore (and its partner Michael Tabor) are the all-time leading owners with six wins.

The chances for another victory by Aidan O’Brien or John Gosden are favorable, given they together train 60% of the field.  Currently, the Gosden-trained Cracksman is the favorite and the O’Brien-trained Cliffs of Moher is the second favorite.  Cracksman is a tepid choice and there is an opportunity in the large field for unexpected results.

The Epsom Derby is an elegant event on turf with the Queen always in attendance, and is always worth watching.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business