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Kentucky Derby Looks To Hit Its Pre-Pandemic Stride

Jim Owens-USA TODAY Sports

The 148th Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday at Churchill Downs, held at full capacity for the first time since 2019 — and with full wallets to match.

Local officials anticipate the “most exciting two minutes in sports” will reach or exceed the $400 million the Derby weekend usually brings in, higher than the initial projection of $324 million. 

  • Separately, the Derby Museum says the event has a $217 million economic impact on the region, per an economic impact report, with the equine industry creating around 55,000 jobs statewide.
  • The 147th Derby generated $35 million with limited capacity because of the pandemic.

Churchill Downs houses the exclusive Millionaires Row, which boasts $36,000 tables, and The Mansion, offering a $1,000 mint julep.

As of Wednesday, occupancy citywide was an estimated 85% — 2% more than in 2019. Downtown was estimated to be at 94% on Wednesday, just short of the pre-pandemic rate of 97%.

Last year, Churchill Downs announced $211 million in renovations to be completed by 2024. Next year’s Derby is expected to have 7,100 all-inclusive seats as part of the Turn 1 Experience, with upgrades to the Homestretch club, a new hotel, gaming positions, and amenities at Derby City Gaming coming later.

Four-legged Finances

The Derby has a prize purse of $3 million, with the winner receiving $1.86 million — a remarkable separation from second place’s $600,000.

The Kentucky Oaks event at Churchill Downs on Friday — a race for 3-year-old female horses — has a $1.25 million prize purse.