08/20/2010 11:32AM

Apple Blossom to stay on Oaklawn's closing weekend

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Oaklawn Park has repositioned the Apple Blossom and reduced the purse of the Oaklawn Handicap from $500,000 to $350,000 in the biggest changes to its 2011 stakes schedule that is again led by the $1  million Arkansas Derby. In all, the track will put on 32 stakes worth $4.6 million during its 56-date meet that opens Jan. 14.

Purses are projected to average $300,000 a day.

Oaklawn had one of its greatest weekends last spring, when it ran the Apple Blossom and Arkansas Derby on back-to-back cards. The track plans to showcase its two Grade 1 races the same way next year, with the $500,000 Apple Blossom set for April 15 and the Arkansas Derby on April 16.
The Apple Blossom ended up being delayed a week last meet to try to bring Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta together, and while the matchup did not materialize, Zenyatta made the race that drew 44,973 spectators. The next day, 61,531 saw Line of David edge Super Saver in the Arkansas Derby.

The Apple Blossom, which reverts back to a handicap and 1 1/16 miles after being run as a 1 1/8-mile stakes in 2009, used to start the Racing Festival of the South along with the Oaklawn Handicap. But the Oaklawn Handicap will do the job solo April 9, and for the first time since 1989 its purse will be worth less than $500,000.

“We don’t like reducing the purse of any of our stakes, but this parallels what other tracks have done in recent years,” Oaklawn official David Longinotti said. “We thought that the money could be better used elsewhere in the stakes program and in overnight purses.”

The Arkansas Derby is one of just two Kentucky Derby preps worth $1 million, along with the Louisiana Derby. Its preps remain the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest on Feb.  21 and the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel on March 19.