Sales for this year’s Kentucky Derby seem to be reflecting a slowly improving economy. The 136th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs this...

Sales for this year’s Kentucky Derby seem to be reflecting a slowly improving economy.

The 136th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs this Saturday, May 1, is presenting a much healthier sales picture than it did for the 2009 event, which saw the smallest crowd in attendance since the track’s 2005 renovations. According to the Louisville, KY Courier-Journal, ticket sales this year for the most famous thoroughbred race in the U.S. are strong enough to virtually assure a sellout of reserved seating for the event. Bill Mudd, Churchill Downs’ Chief Financial Officer, told the Courier-Journal that lower corporate sales and decreased betting led to last year’s downturn in revenue. This year, the track has streamlined some of its higher end seating and provided more parking for attendees, aiming for a more user-friendly experience at the event. Infield tickets for the Derby have been selling at $40, and at $25 for the Kentucky Oaks, the thoroughbred race held each year on the Friday before the Derby.

With the apparent good news regarding Derby sales in the primary market, asked a number of ticket sellers if they’ve seen similar trends in the secondary market.

Zach Anderson, Chief Operating Officer of TicketCity, confirms an up tick in sales for this weekend’s event. “Demand for this year’s Derby has already surpassed 2009 and is likely to finish as the biggest we’ve seen since 2006. We’ve seen a sizeable increase over last year in first-time Derby buyers, and a lot of returning clients are back buying both Derby and Oaks.”

Doug Dearen, owner of, concurs. “The Derby sales have bounced back well from last year. 2009 was a difficult year due to the economy, as we saw many of our regular customers decide to just not attend. This year, many of the people who skipped last year returned.” Dearen also notes a surge in inclusive package sales, which are turning out to be a significant percentage of the company’s Derby sales this year.

Carl White, chief ticket officer of WebTickets, said he also sees Derby ticket demand up this year. However, he sees customers’ use of alternative purchase outlets at work in this process. “With Craigslist and the Internet, people are trading more with each other and not using brokers. Brokers are taking orders, but there’s less supply and we’re fighting over less tickets. This drives the prices up.”

A check of RazorGator two days before the Derby revealed its lowest-priced seats starting at $85. TicketsNow is selling Stand Room Only tickets for as low as $42 and other general admission tickets starting at $68, and StubHub’s lowest-priced seats begin at $277.

The Derby has had its share of drama in recent days. Frontrunner and likely favorite Eskendereya was pulled on April 25 for leg swelling. Subsequent days have seen more withdrawals, including Endorsement from an ankle injury, Interactif with track surface concerns and Rule for a poor workout. The new Derby favorite appears to be Looking at Lucky, though a recent assignment to the rail position in the race has some concerned for his performance.