Today, even with two days of what it bills as championship racing, Breeders’ Cup handle is less than what is wagered on Kentucky Derby day.

Fans bet US$160 million on this year’s two-day Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park in California, and make no mistake about it, that’s a lot of money.

But it’s less than was wagered three years earlier at the same venue: at the 2013 Breeders’ Cup, US$163 million was bet over the two days. The record two-day handle for Breeders’ Cup was set in 2010 when nearly US$174 million was wagered.

The Breeders’ Cup has been run 33 times since 1984. It was created at the dawn of the simulcast era. In the first Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park, there was more money wagered on-track than through simulcasting. That hasn’t happened since and never will again.

The Kentucky Derby is America’s biggest horse race. It generates the highest television ratings (except when a horse is going for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes) and is poised to top US$200 million in wagering (it hit an all-time high US$194 million in 2015 and was US$193 million in 2016).

As a wagering entity, however, it’s a little-known fact that the Breeders’ Cup was bigger than Kentucky Derby day in its formative years. In 12 of its first 17 years, from 1984 through 2000, more money was wagered on Breeders’ Cup day than Kentucky Derby day.

Breeders’ Cup was the first big day to hit US$50 million in wagers in 1989 and 10 years later became the first to reach US$100 million. But since the turn of the 21st century, the Kentucky Derby (and Oaks) have demonstrated sustained growth while the Breeders’ Cup hit its highwater mark for one day in 2006 (US$140 million) and has been relatively stagnant since.

Today, even with two days of what it bills as championship racing, Breeders’ Cup handle is less than what is wagered on Kentucky Derby day.

The Kentucky Derby festival, like the Breeders’ Cup since 2007, is a two-day event that maximizes sponsorship, ticketing and hospitality revenue. But Churchill Downs has figured out how to also maximize wagering on Kentucky Oaks Friday and Kentucky Derby Saturday.

Over the last 10 years, wagering for Oaks and Derby day has grown by 20 percent, from US$202 million to US$242 million. During that same period, from the first two-day Breeders’ Cup in 2007 until this year’s event, total handle grew by 8.7 per cent, from US$147 million to US$160 million.

You’re probably tired of looking at numbers, but I’m going to throw some more at you. At the Nov. 1 Melbourne Cup in Australia (run on a Tuesday afternoon and known as “the race that stops a nation”), there was approximately AUS$141 million wagered through the tote (that doesn’t count the hundreds of millions bet through legal bookmakers).

The population of Australia is just 23 million, which means on average every man, woman and child bet AUS$6. The U.S. has a population of 325 million. If we had a race like the Melbourne Cup that truly attracted the attention of the entire nation, handle would approach US$2 billion.

So we have a lot of upside.

Both the Oaks-Derby weekend and Breeders’ Cup are being marketed as fun, entertaining and fashionable events designed to attract an upscale, younger audience. That part seems to be working for both Churchill Downs and Breeders’ Cup. Demand for tickets is high (and so are the prices).

For some reason, though, the gambling part of Breeders’ Cup isn’t resonating as well as it does for the Oaks and Derby. The challenge for the Breeders’ Cup is to keep growing the event on the wagering front as well as it has on entertainment and hospitality.

A curious aspect of this year’s Breeders’ Cup was the lowest on-track per-capita wagering in its history: $178 per person over the two days.

What’s driving lower on-track wagering is the number of people who no longer bet through pari-mutuel machines but use their phones or tablets to access their advance deposit wagering accounts. The host track and horsemen receive a smaller cut of an ADW bet than it does for a wager place through a tote machine.

That’s a problem that needs to be addressed throughout racing.