08/29/2006 11:00PM

Fantasy now opens festival

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The Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies will open the annual Racing Festival of the South next year at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., in the biggest change to the track's 27-race stakes schedule.

The 56-date meet opens Jan. 19 and is highlighted by the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on closing day, April 14. In all, $4.5 million in stakes will be offered during the meet.

The Fantasy has traditionally been run on the card before the Arkansas Derby, but it has been moved up a week, to Friday, April 6, to open the Festival a day earlier than usual. The change was made because Oaklawn will lose one of its festival days because Easter in 2007 falls on April 8.

The Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom and the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, which normally open the Festival, will be run on the April 7 program. The Festival boasts nine major stakes over the final six days of the meet, from April 6 to April 14.

The Arkansas Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race, is the richest race of the meet and the final leg of the 3-year-old series at Oaklawn. The other two legs are the $250,000 Southwest at one-mile on Feb. 19 and the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile race on March 17.

Purses for the meet are projected at a record $290,000 a day, up from $275,000. The growth is due partly to revenues from Instant Racing, a parimutuel game that plays like a slot machine.