By Priscilla Willis | Photos courtesy of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
High Stakes Thoroughbred Racing at Oaklawn
It’s that time of year again at Oaklawn Racetrack! The live racing season at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort opened Dec. 9, 2022, promising thoroughbred horse racing fans a record-breaking season with the greatest number of stakes races and the highest stakes purses in its history.
Oaklawn President Louis Cella said the expansion of the stakes program is made possible by the early December start. “We were pleased with how December racing was received last year by both racing fans and horsemen,” Cella said. “Now, we’re going to use our stakes schedule to build on that momentum.”
Nine races have been added to the stakes schedule for the 68-day season, bringing the total to 45. Total purses offered for the stakes program increased by $1.45 million to an all-time high of $13.75 million. The overall purse distribution for the season is projected to exceed $50 million, yet another record.
Highlighting the stakes schedule is the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 1, with three $1 million stakes races — the Rebel Stakes (G2) on Feb. 25, the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) on April 15 and the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) — on April 2. Oaklawn in April just may be the antidote to tax season.
The 2022-2023 season runs through May 6, Kentucky Derby Day.
Three of the newly added stakes races went off in December, and the other six will take place during the final weeks of the season:
Matron Stakes ($250,000) – March 31
Hot Springs Stakes ($200,000) – April 1
Valley of the Vapors Stakes ($150,000) – April 22
Dig a Diamond Stakes ($150,000) – April 29
Lake Ouachita Stakes ($150,000) – May 5
Lake Hamilton Stakes ($150,000) – May 6
“One of the reasons Oaklawn has been successful for more than a century is because of where we are located,” said Wayne Smith, Oaklawn general manager. “Tourism is a major industry in our area, and Oaklawn is proud to be the state’s top tourism attraction. We wanted some stakes with names synonymous with Oaklawn’s hometown and the surrounding area.”
Oaklawn’s rich 3-year-old series, offering points toward eligibility in the Kentucky Derby (G1), began Jan. 1 with the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and continues with the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) on Jan. 28 and the Rebel Stakes (G2) on Feb. 25, before culminating with the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 1.
Other notable highlights of Oaklawn’s 2022-2023 stakes schedule are the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) on Feb. 18, $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) and $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (G3) on March 18, and the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) and $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) on April 15.
In 2022, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort introduced three exciting projects: The OAK Room & Bar, the family-friendly Mainline Sports Bar and headliner concerts in the event center.
With the opening of The OAK Room & Bar, guests now have two fine-dining options for a special celebration, date night, or a break from the excitement of race day action and gaming. Located in the casino, The OAK Room & Bar offers a sophisticated ambiance and an eclectic menu of elevated Southern dishes, premium steaks and seafood. In addition, The Bugler features upscale American cuisine (think carefully selected fish and steaks), a stylish interior showcasing the history of Oaklawn and a large outdoor patio overlooking the racetrack.
Oaklawn is thrilled with the opening of Mainline Sports Bar, its family-friendly sports-themed experience located in the Oaklawn racing grandstand. Watch your favorite game on one of the 90-plus large screen TVs and wager in the all-new Sportsbook area. Try your hand at ax throwing or challenge your friends to a game of shuffleboard. The Mainline Sports Bar also features three Topgolf Swing Suites, offering simulated golf, baseball, hockey, soccer and more. While you’re putting your athletic abilities to the test, feed your appetite with wings, nachos and other favorite sports bar selections.
Finally, Oaklawn’s event center is booking some fantastic entertainment. While you may have missed Ron White’s Sold Out show on Dec. 30, 2022, and Purple Reign on Jan. 1, the 2023 season kicks off with Great White & Slaughter on Jan. 21 and Tracy Byrd on Feb. 25. So, keep checking the calendar for upcoming shows that appeal to you.
Things at Oaklawn have changed quite a bit since Louis Cella’s great-grandfather and great-great uncle built the Oaklawn Jockey Club in 1904; changing with the times has always been key to Oaklawn’s success. These days, a trip to the races is an activity that the entire family can enjoy, and while you’re there, be sure to head down to the paddock for a close-up look at the majestic thoroughbreds and their jockeys — the stars of the show.
For more information, visit www.oaklawn.com.