08/14/2008 11:00PM

Arkansas Derby tops 31 stakes


Oaklawn Park's productive series for 3-year-olds, led by the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby, will highlight a 31-race stakes schedule worth $4.6 million during the 2009 meet that opens Jan. 16.

The 54-date season runs through April 11, the date of the Arkansas Derby. Past winners of the race include eventual champions Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Curlin.

Oaklawn will have two key prep races leading up to the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. The first is the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest, a one-mile race for 3-year-olds Feb. 16. The second is the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds March 14.

Oaklawn spotlights older horses in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap and the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, which share a card April 4. The stakes open up the annual Racing Festival of the South, when Oaklawn cards at least one stakes a day over the final week of its meet. Other top festival races include the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies April 5, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at six furlongs April 10.

Oaklawn officials project purses will average a record $300,000 a day, due in part to electronic gaming at the track. The prosperity has also led to the creation of two new sprint stakes for older Arkansas-breds in late March, each worth $50,000.