The return of the Kentucky Derby to the traditional first Saturday in May helped the race’s television numbers, according to NBC.
The network reports an average of 14.4 million viewers for the broadcast, up 54 percent from last year’s 9.3 million for the Sept. 5 Derby, which was pushed back until fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Derby earned a 7.15 rating, up 49 percent from last year.
Medina Spirit won the race, giving trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh victory. It was the second consecutive win for both Baffert and jockey John Velazquez, who won for the fourth time. The two teamed up with Authentic in 2020. Baffert has won three of the last four and four of the last seven runnings of the Kentucky Derby.
The BloodHorse reports that viewership peaked at 15.7 million from 6:45 to 7 p.m. Post time was 6:57 p.m. It was NBC’s most-watched broadcast since the NFL playoffs in January.
By comparison, last Thursday’s first night of the NFL Draft drew 12.5 million viewers.
After not allowing fans in 2020, the Derby was limited to announced attendance of 51,838 last Saturday. The announced attendance for the 2019 race was 150,729.
According to Sports Media Watch, the 2021 Kentucky Derby was the third most-watched non-football game since the pandemic hit last March. Only the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game between Baylor and Gonzaga (16.92 million) and the Final Four matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA (14.94 million) drew more viewers.
This year’s Derby ratings were down 24 percent from the 2019 race, which was also held in May and produced a 9.4 rating. This year’s average audience was down 12 percent from the 16.34 million who viewed 2019, when Country House was awarded the victory after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference.
According to NBC, streaming added an additional 140,000 viewers for this year’s race.
NBC will also broadcast the Preakness Stakes on May 15 from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. NBC will pick up coverage, starting at 5 p.m.