Oaklawn Park just shifted the landscape for the 2022 Kentucky Derby trail, boosting the purse for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby to $1.25 million and moving the race up a week, to April 2, 2022.

Oaklawn Park-2022 Stakes
Oaklawn Park’s 2021-22 stakes schedule consists of a record 36 stakes and $12.3 million in purses. The schedule includes a revamping of Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby trail stops and a boost to the Arkansas Derby purse. (Image: Coady Photography)

That moves the Arkansas Derby from its traditional spot as the last major Derby prep — three weeks before the Derby — to four weeks before the Run for the Roses. This likely creates a wild Saturday of Derby preps because moving the Arkansas Derby up a week likely puts it up against the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and possibly, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

Provided tradition and history hold court, you’re looking at two Grade 1s (Santa Anita and Arkansas) and two Grade 2s (Wood Memorial and Blue Grass) on April 2, 2022. At the same time, Oaklawn made the Arkansas Derby the richest stop on the Derby trail.

Putting aside what this does for the Derby trail, this creates a domino effect on the rest of Oaklawn’s Derby prep schedule. When the track announced its 2022 stakes schedule on Tuesday, it revealed the $1 million Grade 2 Rebel Stakes will run on Saturday, Feb. 26, a week earlier than normal. The $750,000 Grade 3 Southwest Stakes will run on Saturday, Jan. 29, and Oaklawn’s Derby prep opener, the Smarty Jones Stakes, will run on New Year’s Day with a $100,000 purse boost to $250,000.

Oaklawn seeks to be the Derby trail stop

The message is clear and unmistakable. Oaklawn wants to be ground zero for Derby preps. There aren’t many $1 million Grade 2 Derby preps, much less $750,000 Grade 3s.

“Historically, Oaklawn’s 3-year-old series has offered the most Kentucky Derby qualifying points of any track in the country,” the track’s president, Louis Cella, said in a statement. “With the extra timing between races and added purse money, we believe Oaklawn will only grow as ‘the’ place to prepare for the Triple Crown races.”

Oaklawn Park-2021/2022 Key Stakes Races

Race Grade Distance Eligible Horses
Dec. 3, 2021 Advent Ungraded 6 furlongs 2-year-olds
Jan 1, 2022 Smarty Jones Listed 1 mile 3-year-olds
Jan. 29, 2022 Southwest 3 1 1/16 miles 3-year-olds
Feb. 5, 2022 Bayakoa 3 1 1/16 miles 4-year olds and up fillies and mares
Feb. 12, 2022 Razorback Handicap 3 1 1/16 miles 4-year-old and up males
Feb. 26, 2022 Rebel 2 1 1/16 miles 3-year-olds
March 12, 2022 Azeri 2 1 1/16 miles 4-year-old and up fillies and mares
April 2, 2022 Arkansas Derby 1 1 1/8 miles 3-year-olds
April 23, 2022 Apple Blossom 1 1 1/16 miles 4-year-old and up fillies and mares
April 23, 2022 Oaklawn Handicap 2 1 1/8 miles 4-year-old and up males

Elsewhere, Oaklawn revealed a record 36 stakes boasting $12.3 million in purses for 2022. Four stakes carry seven-figure purses, including the Arkansas Derby, Rebel Stakes, Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, and Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap. Those latter two events are for older horses and older fillies and mares, respectively. Both key the Saturday, April 23 card.

New 2-year-old stakes race opens the season

Earlier this spring, Oaklawn announced an extension of its racing season into December. The track’s meet will now run from Friday, Dec. 3 to Sunday, May 8. Oaklawn’s first 2-year-old stakes race since 1973, the Advent Stakes, headlines that Dec. 3 opening card.

“When we launched our $100 million expansion program two years ago, we said our goal was to take Oaklawn to a new level of excellence,” Cella said. “When you look at next season’s stakes schedule that includes five new stakes, you can see that is exactly what we are doing.”