Breeders’ Cup betting handle keeps growing through the years

July 5th, 2024

The Breeders’ Cup has ranked among the most important events in horse racing since its inaugural running in 1984. It’s also one of the biggest betting days.

Designed to pit top-tier horses from around the United States (and even the world) against each other in a battle for year-end championships, the Breeders’ Cup has boasted prestige right from the start. But it’s also grown over the past four decades, with the number of races and the resulting betting dollars climbing impressively.

One can argue there’s no better occasion for betting on U.S. horse racing than the Breeders’ Cup. Large betting pools offer the potential for giant payoffs, such as in 2003, when the $2 Pick 6 paid a staggering $2,687,611.20.

And the amount of money wagered at the Breeders’ Cup continues to grow.

Breeders' Cup Betting Handle 1984-2023

Breeders' Cup all-sources betting handle has generally increased since the inaugural edition in 1984.

Launching like a rocket

The first Breeders’ Cup featured seven rich races at Hollywood Park in California: the Classic, the Distaff, the Turf, the Mile, the Sprint, the Juvenile, and the Juvenile Fillies. A crowd of 64,254 wagered $11,466,941 on track while simulcast bettors poured in another $8,009,109 for a grand total of $19,476,050. Of that amount, $16,452,179 was bet on the seven Breeders’ Cup races.

Those were gaudy numbers, but subsequent years would climb to even greater heights. All-sources handle rose to $28,350,245 for the 1985 Breeders’ Cup card at Aqueduct, then to $34,884,790 when the event moved to Santa Anita in 1986. A return to Hollywood Park in 1987 trumped that with $36,014,720.

The dizzying ascent continued for several more years. All-sources betting peaked at $82,608,549 for the 1993 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, but regressed to $65,768,486 at Belmont Park two years later. It wasn’t until 1998, when a then-record crowd of 80,452 attended the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, that a new record of $91,338,477 was established.

Breeders’ Cup expansion triggers another boost

In 1999, the Breeders’ Cup expanded to eight championship races with the addition of the Filly & Mare Turf. The result was the first nine-digit betting day in Breeders’ Cup history as all-sources handle for the Gulfstream Park card reached $100,336,230.

Betting continued to rise more or less without interruption through the 2000s. In 2006 at Churchill Downs, on-track handle of $18,259,971 and simulcast handle of $122,072,227 both set records, as did the combined total of $140,332,198.

Two-day extravaganza fuels new records

The Breeders’ Cup expanded from a one-day event into a two-day extravaganza in 2007. The existing Saturday card was joined by a Friday card featuring three new races: the Dirt Mile, the Juvenile Turf, and the Filly & Mare Sprint. Although heavy rain soaked host track Monmouth Park, betting on Friday reached $31,499,007 and the Saturday card brought in $115,728,777 for a two-day total of $147,227,784.

The program changed again in 2008, when Santa Anita hosted the first editions of the Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Turf Sprint, and the Marathon. Betting over the two days reached $155,740,328, with the 14 Breeders’ Cup races attracting $134,901,039. Even the Great Recession that began shortly after the 2007 Breeders’ Cup couldn’t stop records from being set.

In 2010, Churchill Downs hosted another record Breeders’ Cup, attracting two-day betting handle of $173,857,697. This total stood unmatched for nearly a decade as the Breeders’ Cup program continued to evolve. A short-lived Juvenile Sprint was contested in 2011 and 2012 before being dropped from the schedule. The Marathon was likewise removed from the slate following the 2013 Breeders’ Cup.

In 2017, the Breeders’ Cup took place at Del Mar for the first time. Hosting the championships at California’s popular seaside oval yielded $25,181,316 in on-track betting, which remains a Breeders’ Cup record as of 2023.

In 2018, the Juvenile Turf Sprint boosted the number of Breeders’ Cup races to 14 (only one below the high of 15 from 2011-12), and the following year Santa Anita hosted a record championship that drew $174,628,986 in wagers across two days. But this record didn’t last long: in 2022, a new standard of $189,055,307 was established at Keeneland, which included a staggering $162,779,015 wagered on the 14 Breeders’ Cup races. Both totals rank as records as of 2023.

The future looks bright

In the 40 years from 1984 through 2023, the Breeders’ Cup has only grown in popularity from a betting perspective. A wealth of multi-race and multi-day wagers involving the 14 championship races provide horseplayers with an almost countless array of options for backing their betting opinions.

While there are always ups and downs, on the whole Breeders’ Cup betting handle has increased steadily over four decades. History suggests the $189,055,307 tally from 2022 is unlikely to stand as a record for long; the first Breeders’ Cup to attract more than $200 million in wagers could be just around the corner.