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.
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.
Here’s a brief look at some milestone dates in the 21st century:
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.
Smarty Jones wins the Kentucky Derby and collects a $5 million bonus for sweeping the Rebel, Arkansas Derby, and “Run for the Roses.”
Zenyatta overwhelms the Apple Blossom field that includes reigning Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Ginger Punch en route to a 7-0 campaign.
Oaklawn begins construction on a 60,000-square foot, two-level structure to double the space for the gaming center.
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.
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.
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.
Arkansas Derby winner Creator wins the Belmont – the 14th Triple Crown race win by an Oaklawn-raced horse since 2004
Oaklawn President Charles J. Cella dies at age 81; two weeks later, son Louis A. Cella is named president
Arkansas voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow casino gaming at Oaklawn, Southland in West Memphis, and two other locations in the state.
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.
Oaklawn becomes a full casino and changes its name to Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.
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.
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.
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.
Oaklawn announces a major shift in its racing schedule and extends the race meet to 66 days, beginning Dec. 3, 2021.
Oaklawn announces a record 45-race stakes schedule worth a record $13,750,000.
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.
Oaklawn concludes the 2022-23 season with a record $453,609,670 in handle.
Oaklawn announces a record 47-race stakes schedule worth $16,200,000. A total of 21 stakes receive purse increases.
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.