08/17/2011 4:41PM

Oaklawn Park: Graded stakes added to Arkansas Derby Day card


Oaklawn Park has created a blockbuster Arkansas Derby card for 2012, with the Grade 1, $1  million derby to anchor an April 14 program that will also include the Grade 2, $350,000 Oaklawn Handicap, the Grade 3, $200,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, and the $100,000 Northern Spur.

In another significant change to the 34-race, $5.2 million stakes schedule, Oaklawn has kicked up the purse for the Grade 2 Rebel to $500,000. Part of the track’s series for 3-year-olds, the March 17 Rebel had been worth $300,000.

The 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby is the richest race of the meet and the highlight of the Racing Festival of the South, when Oaklawn puts on a cluster of major stakes over the final week of its meet. Oaklawn has condensed the 2012 festival from six to four days but will again run nine stakes during that period beginning with the Grade 2, $300,000 Fantasy for 3-year-olds fillies on April  11.

Other festival events include the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles April 13.

“Our hope with the compressing of the Racing Festival is to make it more convenient to send horses to Hot Springs,” said David Longinotti, assistant general manager of racing for Oaklawn. “Horsemen will be able to line up one plane, send several horses across a couple different divisions, and arrange to have their main riders come for all the races of the Festival.”

Oaklawn’s meet, which opens for a 56-date run on Jan. 13, gradually builds up to the closing-day Arkansas Derby. The track has three preps for the race, beginning with the $100,000 Smarty Jones at a mile Jan. 16. The Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest, also at a mile, follows Feb. 20. The Rebel, at 1 1/16 miles, is the final stepping-stone to the Arkansas Derby.