Cooperative Kentucky Derby Effort Sees More Sports Bettors Try Horse Racing

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Trent Attyah, Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, FanDuel, DraftKings, Sports Betting, Triple Crown, Preakness
Internet sports betting influencer and founder of Bookit Sports Trent Attyah attended his first Kentucky Derby in 2024.

In an era of unprecedented legal sports wagering playing out on mobile and online platforms, a cooperative effort by Churchill Downs Inc. has helped the massive reach of the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve bring in new players — specifically coveted sports bettors.

CDI reported a massive spike in wagering on the Kentucky Derby day program this year, up 11% to a record $320.5 million. Keep in mind that last year’s $288.7 million bet on Derby day also was a record and that double-digit percentage gain registers as quite an accomplishment.

CDI’s efforts to use the Derby to draw players to its advance-deposit wagering platform,, continues to bear fruit. Beyond that, CDI’s recent willingness to cooperate with some of the country’s biggest sports betting platforms — FanDuel and DraftKings — appears to be paying massive dividends.

While it certainly can be argued that the Derby is a unique event in United States racing, perhaps there is a blueprint of some kind for the Triple Crown races, which continue May 18 with the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, and the sport overall as it aims to attract new fans.

Last year U.S. racing saw a 3.7% decline in wagering in 2023 compared with 2022.

In its second year as an official partner of the Kentucky Derby, FanDuel reported a record 700,000 customers wagered through FanDuel Group, up from about 500,000 last year. More importantly, Andrew Moore, general manager of racing for FanDuel Group, said 200,000 FanDuel customers on Derby day bet on racing for the first time.

While FanDuel’s fixed-odds sports betting platform does not offer Derby wagering, its sports betting account holders have easy access to pari-mutuel wagering on racing through FanDuel Racing because the latter is a click away and it offers a shared wallet with the sports betting platform. This means that sports betting customers do not have to go through the hassle of setting up a new account and funding mechanisms to wager on the Derby — or other races.

Moore said that access is the key to bringing in sports bettors.

“We have millions of customers on the sportsbook side and now racing is available to them, when it wasn’t in the past,” Moore said.

The marketing-advertising push ahead of the Derby was similar to what sports bettors are accustomed as FanDuel rolled out sports celebrities such as Rob Gronkowski to promote FanDuel Racing and created offers such as a $500 “No Sweat First Bet.”

“We obviously do a lot of media,” Moore said. “We had our Gronk commercial on the NBC broadcast. We absolutely invest in a lot of different places.”

Moore notes that with its 25-year history with a racing channel in the U.S., first TVG now rebranded as FanDuel TV, the company prioritizes racing and has more experience in that area than other sports betting platforms.

“We first integrated racing into our sportsbook at the start of 2023 — I know it’s a bit of, ‘What took us so long?’ That was a two-year project to make that happen,” Moore said. “Integrating pari-mutuel wagering with sportsbook wagering wasn’t easy. Getting everything in the same account wasn’t easy. The fact that FanDuel is still the only sportsbook out there with racing on the same account shows it was a big project.

“Horse racing has always been important to us and making that incremental investment around the Derby is not something we struggle with because it’s such an iconic event.”

The numbers seem to suggest the cooperative effort is benefitting all involved. CDI saw gains from FanDuel’s promotions while FanDuel benefitted from CDI’s efforts to market the race far and wide.

“It’s a partnership that’s worthwhile for both sides,” Moore said. “Churchill Downs absolutely recognized that FanDuel could bring a lot of new customers to the Derby.

“Churchill deserves a lot of credit. They really invested in Derby 150. This has been a concept that they’ve been talking about for not just the last year; they’ve been thinking about Derby 150 for the last five years. At the track, there’s been incremental improvements to that venue each year and you go there now and it stands up as good a sports venue or racetrack compared with anywhere you’d go. It’s really impressive and I think the investment paid off.”

CDI believes the investment in the facility has energized the entire event.

“We were honored to debut our transformational new paddock as we celebrated this milestone 150th run for the roses,” CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a release. “The new paddock has fundamentally enhanced the experience of all of our guests as they pass through our front gates and is a steppingstone to the next chapter of this time-honored event.”

Moore also cited Churchill’s continuing relationship with NBC as providing a far-reaching platform for the race and the races around it.

CDI’s ADW platform, TwinSpires, handled a record of $92.1 million in wagering on Churchill Downs races for the Kentucky Derby day program, up 22% compared with last year’s record $75.5 million. TwinSpires’ $60.9 million handle on the Kentucky Derby race also established a record, up 24% from last year record of $48.9 million.

CDI expects the Kentucky Derby week adjusted earnings to reflect a record with $26 million-$28 million of growth over the prior record set last year.

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