Kentucky Derby sets record for betting

The Kentucky Derby with the toughest bet ever was won by the greatest long shot in the field.

A record $179.0 million was wagered in the pari-mutuel pool at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, up 17% from last year and 8% more than the previous record set in 2019, according to the Churchill Downs. Only $501,135 of the total amount wagered on the win pool was on Rich Strike, the lowest of any horse in the field, according to numbers released by the track.

Rich Strike, who took off 80-1, sprinted past favorites Epicenter and Zandon in the final moments to cause the second biggest disruption in the 148-year history of the race at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Rich Strike was an even bigger contender in Nevada, where sportsbooks had offered odds for the winner of the Kentucky Derby since the beginning of the year. Rich Strike could be found as long as 300-1 in March and 200-1 on Saturday at Las Vegas sportsbook Circa. The long odds sparked a spate of late bets on Rich Strike, turning what was a big win for most Nevada bookmakers into a minor loser for Circa.

“People like the longest strokes on the board, so we made a lot of small bets [on Rich Strike]$25, $50, here and there,” Paul Zilm, a risk supervisor who oversees Circa’s horse racing offerings, told ESPN. “It turned it into a small loss for us.”

Rich Strike was only in the Derby field on Friday after a late scratch. Circa added the foal to the group again on Friday morning after the draw. Zilm estimated he was taking 75-100 bets on Rich Strike, many placed in the last 15 minutes before the race in a range of 125-1 to 150-1, almost double what the track odds were.

“That added up quickly, but if I did it all over again, I probably wouldn’t change much,” Zilm said. “Long-shot gamblers got their wish.”

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, the owner of a Houston furniture store known for big betting, wasn’t so lucky. McIngvale told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he lost $2.6 million betting on the Derby, with $1.5 million on a straight bet on the favorite Epicenter to win. McIngvale used his big bets on the Derby to soften the promotion at his furniture store, Gallery Furniture, which offered to refund purchases of at least $3,000 if the favorite won the Kentucky Derby.

While Circa Sports came up short, other Las Vegas sportsbooks did well with Rich Strike’s upset. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas said it would take “maybe 10” bets on Rich Strike to win the Derby in its futures pool.

†[We] had almost the entire pool,” Ed Salmons, vice president of risk management at the SuperBoook, told ESPN.

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