Kentucky Derby: Big numbers all around

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
2:32
PM ET
More than 160,000 fans are expected to crowd into Churchill Downs on Saturday to watch the “fastest two minutes in sports.”

Ticket demand for the Kentucky Derby has surpassed all prior years, according to ticket reseller StubHub. More than 3,000 fans purchased tickets online, though prices have been about 10 percent lower than last year. Twenty-four hours before the Derby, the get-in price on StubHub was $245 for lower grandstand seats at the 3/16 pole. The most expensive seat was $4,706 each for seats in the Turf Club.

Unlimited standing-room only tickets are available at Churchill Downs on race day for $50, a $10 increase over last year’s price. For those who purchased in advance, the cheapest seats were in the bleachers starting at $100. Millionaire’s Row, where many celebrities take in the action, is sold by the table for about $5,000, but that price can move higher depending on the package bought.

A further look inside some of the numbers that make the Derby the huge event that it is, according to the Derby:

[+] EnlargeKentucky Derby hats
Icon SMIExtraordinary hats have always been the norm on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
The Money
•  $165.2 million: total amount waged on Kentucky Derby Day in 2011.
•  $135.5 million: amount paid to winning bettors in 2011.
•  $184.90: the record $2 win payoff for a Kentucky Derby winner (Donerail, 1913)

The Alcohol
•  120,000: the number of $10 Mint Juleps sold.
•  40,000: the number of $10 Oaks Lilies sold.
•  425,000: cans of $7 and $8 beer sold.

The People
•  164,858: the record number of people who attended last year’s race.
•  44: Kentucky Derby starters for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the most in history. He’ll extend his record this weekend with Optimizer.

Getting a horse into the raise is, to put it mildly, an expensive effort.

All Derby horses are 3-year-olds. They all are born between January and June of a given year but all have the official birth date of Jan. 1.

The first step in raising a Derby contender is to either purchase a horse at auction or breed. Purchasing a thoroughbred at auction can range from the low-six figures to the low-seven figures. The record purchase price for an eventual Kentucky Derby winner was $4 million for then-yearling Fusaichi Pegasus, which won in 2000.

Horse owner Nelson Clemmens said breeding a horse requires the purchase of a good mare, which can range from $50,000 to $400,000 or more. The owner will then have to pay a stud fee, which ranges from $10,000 to $150,000.

Once a horse is weaned around 5 months old, Clemmens said it costs approximately $1,500 a month to develop. That cost escalates to $2,500 to $3,000 per month.

Once a thoroughbred is running at a high level, it costs $3,000 to $4,000 per month to train the horse, plus transportation, entry fees and other costs. There are also various administrative costs that go into preparing a horse for the Kentucky Derby.

When a horse wins a purse, which at the Kentucky Derby is worth $1.5 million for the winner, Clemmens said 60 percent goes to the owner, 10 percent to the trainer and 10 percent to the jockey. The remainder is used to pay grooms’ bonuses and other track expenses.

The odds are stacked against that big win. Each year, about 30,000 foals arrive in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Only 20 end up racing in the Derby each year.

Kristi Dosh

Sports Business
Dosh covers sports business for ESPN. She is an attorney, founder of BusinessOfCollegeSports.com, and joined ESPN in October 2011.
Author of "Saturday Millionaires: How winning football builds winning colleges."

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