07/31/2013 11:30AM

Oaklawn Park: Stakes schedule in 2014 worth a track-record $6.1 million

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Oaklawn Park has increased the minimum purse for its open-company stakes races to $100,000 and created a “Racing Festival of the South Preview Day” that packs the Rebel, Azeri, and Razorback into a single program. Those changes represent the most significant enhancements to a record $6.1 million stakes schedule released Wednesday. The Hot Springs, Ark., track opens for a 57-date meet Jan. 10.

The Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on the closing-day card April 12 will again serve as the centerpiece of the 31-race stakes calendar. It’s also the climax of the meet’s popular 3-year-old program that this year produced Preakness winner Oxbow. The series opens with the $150,000 Smarty Jones at a mile Jan. 20 and continues with the Grade 3, $300,000 Southwest at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 17 and the Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at 1 1/16 miles on March 15.

The Rebel will share a card next year with the Grade 3 Azeri and the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap. The races are all preps for Oaklawn’s annual Racing Festival of the South, which offers nine major stakes over the final week of the meet.

The Azeri, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares that has been boosted in value from $150,000 to $200,000, is the local stepping-stone to the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 11. The Razorback, for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles, also had a purse increase from $150,000 to $200,000. The race is designed to produce starters for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 12.

Overall, there were purse increases for 19 stakes for the upcoming meet at Oaklawn. Many races have been boosted from $60,000 and $75,000 to the new standard of $100,000. In addition, the meet has set a new $75,000 minimum for Arkansas-bred stakes, with the five restricted races on the calendar up from $60,000.

The Racing Festival, which had been compressed into four dates during the last few seasons, will revert to its traditional weeklong run for 2014. It will launch April 5 with the Grade 3, $400,000 Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies. Other highlights include the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on April 10, which has been boosted in value from $250,000 to $300,000.

The Apple Blossom, meanwhile, will share a card with the $100,000 Bachelor for 3-year-olds at six furlongs April 11, while the Arkansas Derby Day card will feature four stakes, including the Oaklawn Handicap.

Last year, the Oaklawn stakes schedule was worth $5.6 million. The increase of more than $500,000 for 2014 is due in part to the success of electronic gaming at the track. Officials expect overnight purses to reach record levels for the upcoming meet.