Oaklawn Park will host its final Kentucky Derby prep race Saturday with the running of the $1million dollar, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
A field of 3-year-olds will travel 1 ⅛ miles on dirt in search of Derby qualifying points. The Winner will get 100 points, while the runner-up will receive 40, the 3rd-place finisher 20, and the 4th-place finisher 10.
The race was first held in 1936, and has been held every year since then except in 1945 due to World War II restrictions.
A lot of talented horses have competed in this race on their way to the first Saturday in May. Here’s a look back at some of the best Arkansas Derby Winners of the 21st century.
SMARTY JONES (2004) This lovable Pennsylvania-bred went to Oaklawn in the winter of 2004 in search of more than Derby seasoning. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Oaklawn Park announced that if a horse swept the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Derby, they would Win a $5 million bonus.
That temptation lured the East Coast-based SMARTY JONES to Oaklawn, where he took the Rebel by 3 ¾ lengths to extend his career mark to a perfect 5-for-5.
In the Arkansas Derby, he was the even-money favorite in the field of 11 despite drawing the far outside post. He drew away down the stretch Winning by 1½ lengths.
Three weeks later, SMARTY JONES got the job done in the Kentucky Derby, wearing down front-running LION HEART in the stretch for the Victory, and the $5 million dollar bonus. He became the first undefeated Derby Winner since SEATTLE SLEW in 1977.
After his runaway Preakness Win, he was the overwhelming favorite to become the first Triple Crown Winner in 26 years at the Belmont Stakes. However, SMARTY JONES was caught late by stretch-running BIRDSTONE in one of the most memorable Triple Crown races of modern times.
CURLIN (2007) Going into the Arkansas Derby, he had very quickly become one of the major players on the Derby trail. He broke his Maiden in February 2007 at Gulfstream Park. In his second career start, CURLIN Won the Rebel Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths.
On the basis of that Win, he was made the 4-5 favorite in the nine-horse Arkansas Derby field. Once again, CURLIN sat a great trip and Won impressively. He crushed the field by 10 ½ lengths, instantly becoming one of the Kentucky Derby favorites.
As the 5-1 third choice in The Run For The Roses, CURLIN finished 3rd behind STREET SENSE. He avenged that defeat in a thrilling Preakness Stakes – defeating the Derby Winner by a head – and then lost another great stretch duel to the filly RAGS TO RICHES in the Belmont Stakes. Later that year, CURLIN Won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch the Horse of the Year title.
AMERICAN PHAROAH (2015) He was voted the champion 2-year-old male the year before based on two Grade 1 Wins in California.
He was an easy Winner of his 3-year-old debut, crushing the field in the Rebel Stakes by 6 ¼ lengths.
In the Arkansas Derby, he was the overwhelming favorite in the field of eight, going off as the 1-10 betting choice.
There was never an anxious moment in the race. Jockey Victor Espinoza rated him off the early leaders who began to back up as the field rounded the final turn. As soon as AMERICAN PHAROAH took the lead, he began to draw away. He finished 1st by eight lengths, covering the distance in 1:48.52.
That race set him up perfectly for the Kentucky Derby, which he Won by a length despite a wide trip. From there, AMERICAN PHAROAH Won the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes to become racing’s first Triple Crown Winner since AFFIRMED in 1978.
He capped his memorable season with a Win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, becoming the first horse to Win the Kentucky Derby and the Classic since UNBRIDLED in 1990.