Oaklawn Park, where American Pharoah launched the first successful Triple Crown campaign in 37 years, has made several enhancements to its 2016 stakes schedule – most notably increasing the purse of the March 19 Grade II Rebel Stakes from $750,000 to $900,000. American Pharoah dominated both the Rebel and $1 million Arkansas Derby en route to his Triple Crown success this year.
Further, Oaklawn also increased the purse of the Feb. 15 Grade III Southwest Stakes from $300,000 to $500,000. When coupled with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes in January, Oaklawn now offers more than $2.5 million in stakes purses for 3-year-olds with Triple Crown aspirations.
“It’s amazing to think of how far our 3-year-old stakes program has come over the last dozen years,” Director of Racing David Longinotti said. “The Rebel’s purse was $125,000 in 2003 and is now the richest prep in March. Thanks to the success of our overall business plan, we’ve been able to deliver on the promises we made to our racing fans several years ago. Our goal has always been to bring the highest quality of racing to Arkansas. This is a testament to that commitment.”
Since 2004, when champion Smarty Jones won the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby before victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Oaklawn’s 3-year-old stakes program has produced eight horses which have accounted for 12 Triple Crown race victories. In addition to Smarty Jones and American Pharoah, this list also includes dual Classic winner Afleet Alex, two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and champion 3-year-olds Summer Bird and Lookin at Lucky.
Oaklawn has also significantly boosted purses for several of its key stakes for older horses, highlighted by the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap, which was increased from $600,000 to $750,000 for 2016. The Grade III Razorback Handicap, the last local prep for the Oaklawn Handicap March 19, was increased $50,000 to $300,000. The boosts to the Oaklawn Handicap, which shares the card with the Arkansas Derby April 16, and the Razorback, which is part of the Rebel Day undercard, help create two of the richest days in Oaklawn history. Rebel Day will feature $1.5 million in stakes purses and Derby Day will feature $2 million in stakes purses.
“It’s going to be tough to duplicate this year’s Rebel Day when we had two champions making their seasonal debut with American Pharoah and Untapable in the Azeri, but we are definitely excited about the possibilities for 2016,” said Longinotti. “Multiple stakes days have proven successful all over the country and we feel confident we have created two of the best days of racing in North America.”
Other significant changes to the 2016 stakes schedule include a $100,000 increase to the Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap April 10, which will now be worth $400,000. The Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters April 14 received a $50,000 boost to $150,000. In addition, all five Arkansas-bred stakes were raised $25,000 to $100,000 and the Northern Spur and Instant Racing Stakes, which share the card with the Oaklawn Handicap and Arkansas Derby closing day, April 16, were both increased $25,000 to $125,000.
Oaklawn’s 2016 Live Meet begins Friday, Jan. 15, 2016 and continues through Saturday, April 16. The highlight of the season will once again be the Racing Festival of the South, which runs Saturday, April 9 – Saturday, April 16 and features nine stakes worth $3,650,000.