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Oaklawn’s Rich History is Richer Than Ever

The numbers are huge at Oaklawn: The 119th racing season opens Friday for 66 racing days, with a record $60 million in purses (a 20% increase), a record 47 stakes races, including a quarter-million-dollar boost to $1.5 million for the Arkansas Derby (G1), and one total eclipse of the sun on April 8.

Nadal – Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park

There are four Kentucky Derby (G1) preps – the Smarty Jones, the Southwest (G3), the Rebel (G2), and the Arkansas Derby worth more than $4.5 million (a $600,000 increase); and three Kentucky Oaks (G1) preps – the Martha Washington, the Honeybee (G3), and the Fantasy (G3) worth a total of a total of $1.4 million (a $300,000 increase).

“Let me put this in perspective,’’ Oaklawn President Louis Cella said. “Our season purses will be three times greater than they were just 10 years ago. And we’ve made sure it’s been across all levels of our racing product.”

And there’s the eclipse: A narrow path of totality will run through Arkansas with Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the center.

From Triple Crowns to Milestone Wins: Oaklawn Racetrack’s 21st Century Timeline

Here’s a brief look at some milestone dates in the 21st century:

Jan. 14, 2000

Instant Racing, a parimutuel electronic system which allows players to wager on previously-run races, is introduced. It’s not called Historical Racing and offered around the country.

May 1, 2004

Smarty Jones wins the Kentucky Derby and collects a $5 million bonus for sweeping the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and “Run for the Roses.”

April 5, 2008

Zenyatta overwhelms the Apple Blossom field that includes reigning Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Ginger Punch en route to a 7-0 campaign.

April 14, 2008

Oaklawn begins construction on a 60,000-square foot, two-level structure to double the space for the gaming center.

Feb. 15, 2009

Rachel Alexandra kicks off her remarkable 3-year-old season by winning the Martha Washington. She would add the Fantasy on April 5 before wins in the Kentucky Oaks, and three wins over the boys, including the Preakness and Woodward, en route to Horse of the Year honors.

March 13, 2010

Lookin at Lucky, the reigning 2-year-old champ, wins the Rebel for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. It’s the first of eight Rebel victories for Baffert.

June 6, 2015

After winning the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, American Pharoah becomes the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Triple Crown, and then wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

June 11, 2016

Arkansas Derby winner Creator wins the Belmont – the 14th Triple Crown race win by an Oaklawn-raced horse since 2004

Dec. 6, 2017

Oaklawn President Charles J. Cella dies at age 81; two weeks later, son Louis A. Cella is named president

Nov. 6, 2018

Arkansas voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow casino gaming at Oaklawn, Southland in West Memphis, and two other locations in the state.

March 14, 2019

Oaklawn becomes the first track in history to split a $1 million race and runs two $750,000 divisions of the Rebel before a crowd of 45,500. A single-day handle record of $16,221,639 is set.

April 1, 2019

Oaklawn becomes a full casino and changes its name to Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

March 13, 2020

One day before the Rebel, Oaklawn closes the races to fans due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Two days later, it closes the casino, but keeps racing without fans until the end of the season.

May 2, 2020

Oaklawn runs the rescheduled Arkansas Derby in two divisions for the second time. Baffert wins both divisions with Charlatan and Rebel winner Nadal; the 14-race card produces a record $41,007,201 in handle.

Jan. 22, 2021

Oaklawn’s live meet opens with limited fans for the first time since March 2020. The racetrack is fully open to the public by Arkansas Derby Day, April 10.

June 7, 2021

Oaklawn announces a major shift in its racing schedule and extends the race meet to 66 days, beginning Dec. 3, 2021.

July 28, 2022

Oaklawn announces a record 45-race stakes schedule worth a record $13,750,000.

Feb. 20, 2023

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen becomes the first trainer in North America to reach 10,000 victories; he becomes Oaklawn’s winningest trainer with No. 868 at the track.

May 6, 2023

Oaklawn concludes the 2022-23 season with a record $453,609,670 in handle.

July 19, 2023

Oaklawn announces a record 47-race stakes schedule worth $16,200,000. A total of 21 stakes receive purse increases.


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