The Smarty Jones Stakes, a Kentucky Derby prep race, kicks off a new era Friday at Oaklawn Park. The Hot Springs, Arkansas, track has 33 stakes races with $11 million in prize money as part of the 57-day meet that runs through May 1.
Preps for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks include:
- Jan. 22: Smarty Jones Stakes
- Feb. 15: Southwest Stakes
- March 13: Rebel Stakes
- April 10: Arkansas Derby
- Jan. 30: Martha Washington
- March 6: Honeybee Stakes
- April 3: Fantasy Stakes
The $1 million Rebel Stakes (50-20-10-5) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (100-40-20-10) are championship series races offering major qualifying points to the top winners toward earning entry to the 2021 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
The Honeybee Stakes (50-20-10-5) and Fantasy Stakes (100-40-20-10) are major preps for the Kentucky Oaks.
Oaklawn Park improvements
A more than $100 million expansion project at Oaklawn Park includes an upscale 200-room hotel overlooking the race track along the first turn. The hotel is set to open in March following delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A limited number of spectators can attend the races as the meet begins, with box-seat holders and members of Oaklawn’s jockey club part of the fortunate few to watch live racing at the track. Officials are hopeful more fans will be allowed to attend the races as spring arrives.
“We know how many people maximum, which will be about 6,500 people, can attend the races at Oaklawn, spread out throughout the facility,” Oaklawn president Louis Cella said. “To put that into perspective, we have over 500,000 square feet under (our) roof. So, 6,000 folks spread out among five floors, it’s quite doable, and that’s what we’re doing. When the weather gets a little nicer, we’ll spill outside, and we’ll be able to open more to the general public, outside, in our infield and on our apron.”
Stakes schedule at Oaklawn Park
In addition to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks prep races listed above, all 33 stakes races, including those for state-bred runners, will have a purse of at least $150,000. Along with the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, two other $1 million races are the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap. The stakes schedule and the $11 million in prize money is the richest purse structure in the track’s 117-year history.
The Essex Handicap on March 13 and Oaklawn Mile on April 10 will have a $150,000 purse increase and be worth $500,000 and $400,000, respectively. The Razorback Handicap (Grade 3) on Saturday, Feb. 13, will be raised by $100,000 to $600,000.
“We would not be able to once again offer record purses next year if it weren’t for the tremendous support we’ve received from the Arkansas Racing Commission, the horsemen and our fans in 2020,” Cella said. “We are excited to continue building on our ‘New Level of Excellence,’ which will include our new hotel, event center, state-of-the-art spa and additional restaurants, which are all on schedule to open by early 2021.”
Racing will be conducted Friday through Sunday for the first two weeks of the meet, and then shift to a Thursday to Sunday schedule starting in February.