In a monumental schedule change, Oaklawn Park will open for its 118th season this Friday.
The facility has added December race dates to the calendar for the first time in the track’s history.
The 66-day meet will be conducted mainly on a Friday-Sunday basis and will conclude Sunday, May 8th.
The crowning achievement of the meet is the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, which received two major changes; the purse was boosted to $1.25 million, making it the richest event among 2022 Kentucky Derby preps, and the date was moved to Saturday, April 2nd.
The date shift is a departure from its traditional three weeks before the Kentucky Derby.
With the race being held earlier, it gives participants five weeks between the Arkansas Derby and the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
The new positioning of the Arkansas Derby on the racing calendar had a ripple effect on the other major 3-year-old races at Oaklawn.
The $1 million dollar Rebel Stakes will be run on Saturday, February 26th. While the $750,000 Southwest Stakes will be run Saturday, January 29th.
The Smarty Jones Stakes will kick off their series of preps on New Year’s Day with a purse that has been increased to $250,000.
In addition to the Arkansas Derby and the Rebel, two other stakes will carry million-dollar purses: the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, which will both be run April 23rd.
In regard to the new and lengthier meet, Oaklawn President Louis Cella said. “Our purses will be among the highest in the country between December and May, and the entertainment value we offer will be second to none. Our luxury hotel, spa, and event center are fully open. The excitement heading into our live season has never been greater.”