(HOT SPRINGS) Once the LIVE racing season opens up at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs in January, the track’s 2020 racing schedule will include a total of four stakes races with purses of $1 million.
The Grade I Arkansas Derby, for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls, one of the oldest races ran at Oaklawn since 1936.
In addition, the Grade I Apple Blossom Stakes for fillies and mares, four years old and up and the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap for horses four years old and up, are both scheduled for April 18th, and the Grade II Rebel Stakes, the third of four Kentucky Derby qualifying races at Oaklawn, on March 14th, are the four stakes races that will attract the biggest attention from owners.
The Grade III Southwest Stakes, Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby qualifying race, will be run February 17th for a purse of $750,000, up from $500,000 last season.
Oaklawn also has increased the purses of its three Kentucky Oaks qualifying races. The purse for the Martha Washington Stakes, scheduled for Feb. 1, will increase by $25,000 to $150,000. The Honeybee Stakes purse will increase from $200,000 to $300,000 on March 7th and the Fantasy Stakes purse will go from $500,000 to $600,000 on April 10.
Oaklawn Director of Racing Jed Doro said increased purses should bring a higher quality of stakes racing to the track, particularly for the $1 million races.
“This will hopefully allow us to pick up some owners who might have passed,” Doro said. “Whereas they might have passed, now they might say, ‘You know what, let’s go. The money’s too good not to.’ We’ll see, but we’re hoping it will make a difference in certain situations.”
The most significant schedule change for 2020 will extend the Racing Festival of the South beyond the Arkansas Derby. The Racing Festival of the South at first featured a week of stakes races, highlighted by the Arkansas Derby on the season’s final day.
But, the 2019 season saw Oaklawn’s schedule extended through the first Saturday in May, but the Racing Festival remained in its familiar place with a finish in mid-April.
Its most significant feature will remain the Arkansas Derby, scheduled for April 11th, but it will continue through the following weekend with the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicaps.
The Racing Festival of the South was established by the late long-time Oaklawn owner and track president Charles Cella, the father of now President Louis Cella’,
“My father conceived the idea for the Racing Festival of the South in 1974, and since that time it’s become one of the most prominent events on the national racing calendar,”