08/02/2017 11:16AM

Oaklawn Park boosts purse of Apple Blossom Handicap

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The purse of the Apple Blossom Handicap has been raised to $700,000 in the most significant change to the 31-race stakes schedule for the Oaklawn Park meet that opens Jan. 12. Last season, the race was worth $600,000 when won by champion Stellar Wind.

Oaklawn’s stakes calendar, which features four races offering Kentucky Derby qualifying points, will be worth a track-record $8.53 million in 2018.

The Apple Blossom, a 1 1/16-mile race on April 13, is one of two Grade 1 stakes at Oaklawn. The $1 million Arkansas Derby will close out the season April 14. The stakes anchor the annual Racing Festival of the South, a grouping of major races over the final week of the meet. The Apple Blossom will share a card with a Kentucky Oaks prep, the Grade 3, $400,000 Fantasy.

In another change to the stakes schedule, the purse for the Essex Handicap has been boosted from $250,000 to $300,000. The 1 1/16-mile race will be run March 17. Last meet, Mor Spirit shipped in and won the Essex two races before his tour-de-force performance in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont.

Oaklawn’s outstanding program for 3-year-olds starts with the $150,000 Smarty Jones at a mile Jan. 15. The Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest at 1 1/16 miles follows on Feb. 19. Last meet, those two races each awarded 17 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

The 3-year-old action escalates March 17 with the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile race that was worth 85 points in 2017. The meet’s final steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby is the 170-point Arkansas Derby. The 1 1/8-mile race will be supported by three other stakes on closing day, including the Grade 2, $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap at the same distance and the Grade 3, $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.

The Rebel shares a card with the Essex and Grade 2, $350,000 Azeri, which is the local steppingstone to the Apple Blossom. The Southwest will be part of a program that includes the Grade 3, $500,000 Razorback Handicap, won last meet by Gun Runner, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Bayakoa, which could produce starters for the Apple Blossom.

2018 Oaklawn Park stakes schedule

DATE RACE CONDITIONS DISTANCE PURSE
Fri., Jan. 12 Fifth Season 4YO & Up 1 1/16M $125K
Sat., Jan. 13 Pippin 4YO & Up 1 1/16M $125K
Mon., Jan. 15 Smarty Jones 3YO 1M $150K
Sat., Jan. 20 Dixie Belle 3YO Fillies 6F $125K
Sat., Jan. 27 American Beauty 4YO & Up F&M 6F $125K
Sat., Feb. 3 King Cotton 4YO & Up  6F $125K
Sat., Feb. 10 Martha Washington 3YO Fillies 1M $125K
Sat., Feb. 17 Bayakoa (G3) 4YO & Up F&M 1 1/16M $150K
Mon., Feb. 19 Razorback Handicap (G3) 4YO & Up 1 1/16M $500K
Mon., Feb. 19 Southwest (G3) 3YO 1 1/16M $500K
Sat., Feb. 24 Downthedustyroad 3YO & Up F&M* 6F $100K
Sat., Feb. 24 Gazebo 3YO 6F $125K
Sat., Mar. 3 Nodouble 3YO & Up* 6F $100K
Sat., Mar. 3 Spring Fever 4YO & Up F&M 5 1/2F $200K
Sat., Mar. 10 Honeybee (G3) 3YO Fillies 1 1/16M $200K
Sat., Mar. 10 Hot Springs 4YO & Up 6F $125K
Sat., Mar. 17 Azeri (G2) 4YO & Up F&M 1 1/16M $350K
Sat., Mar. 17 Rebel (G2) 3YO 1 1/16M $900K
Sat., Mar. 17 Essex Handicap 4YO & Up 1 1/16M $300K
Sat., Mar. 24 Purple Martin 3YO Fillies 6F $150K
Fri., Mar. 30 Rainbow 3YO* 6F $150K
Sat., Mar. 31 Rainbow Miss 3YO Fillies* 6F $150K
Sat., April 7 Carousel 4YO & Up F&M 6F $150K
Sat., April 7 Arkansas Breeders' (Open Div.) 3YO & Up 1 1/16M $100K
Thur., April 12 Bachelor 3YO 6F $150K
Fri., April 13 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) 4YO & Up F&M 1 1/16M $700K
Fri., April 13 Fantasy (G3) 3YO Fillies 1 1/16M $400K
Sat., April 14 Northern Spur 3YO 1 1/16M $150K
Sat., April 14 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) 4YO & Up 6F $400K
Sat., April 14 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) 4YO & Up 1 1/8M $750K
Sat., April 14 Arkansas Derby (G1) 3YO 1 1/8M $1 million

*Arkansas-bred