Though the stands were empty of spectators as Spiced Perfection, Mia Mischief, Skinny Dip, Sacred Oath, Dunbar Road, and other thoroughbreds galloped around the track this past weekend, a Churchill Downs (NASDAQ:CHDN) spokesman reports that betting soared to $26.6 million total for both days. With live races resuming, fans placed wagers remotely from home via the Twin Spires app, racking up a 185% year-over-year increase from 2019.

Spokesman Darren Rogers said that 2019's opening weekend betting, with spectators in the stands, only amounted to slightly more than $9.3 million. By contrast, 2020 saw each day's wagering exceed that level. Online bets reached $14.2 million on Saturday, May 16, and $12.3 million on Sunday, May 17.

A horse racing board.

Image source: Getty Images.

By last Thursday, just two days before the race, approximately 720 horses were on the Churchill Downs grounds, along with their trainers and support personnel. Daily health checks will be administered to help prevent COVID-19 outbreaks among the human participants. The spring meet is fully televised and is scheduled to continue for 26 days in all. According to Churchill Downs, 11 races took place on Saturday, involving several hundred horses and dozens of jockeys and trainers.

The next races will occur on Thursday, May 21. The first major stakes of the year, the Matt Winn Stakes, are scheduled for May 23, and may also draw heavy remote wagering. The Matt Winn stands out not only for its $150,000 purse but also because the leading four entrants will earn points toward entry in the Kentucky Derby itself, currently postponed until Sept. 5.

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