On the day Oaklawn made racing history by splitting the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) into two divisions, the track also announced its adding $1 million to the overnight purses for the third increase of the 2019 live season. Retroactive to the Thursday, March 14 card, purses for open allowance races will be $95,000, an increase of $7,000. Purses for open maidens will be $90,000. All other overnights will see increases of $2,000 to $4,000.
This latest increase in overnight purses follows a bump announced Feb. 13 and a series of purse increases for stakes races announced Feb. 27.
Oaklawn President Louis Cella said a nationally prominent horse owner recently told him Oaklawn may have the best racing-gaming model in America. “It would be hard to argue against that,” Cella said. “We pioneered this model beginning in 2000, and have further developed it every year since. In fact, just a few years ago we were running open maidens for $40,000 and proud of it. Now they are at $90,000. And, who ever thought we'd be in the position to split the Rebel into two divisions? Today is an extremely proud moment in Oaklawn's history.”
In a sportsmanlike gesture, Oaklawn said last week it would consider adding $500,000 to the Rebel purse and splitting it into two $750,000 divisions when it became clear that an abundance of horses were looking for a Kentucky Derby prep after the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita was cancelled. The split became a reality when 19 entered the 1 1/16-mile race Wednesday, including the top two early Kentucky Derby favorites Game Winner and Improbable.
“We never dreamed the day would come they would close down Santa Anita, but we're getting through it,” Baffert said. “The main thing is that the 3-year-olds, they're doing well. I think it's very nice of them to want to split that race. That's the key thing.”
Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said despite only getting 19 entries, Oaklawn felt the need to deviate from the original plan to only split with 20 or more entries out of an obligation to the horsemen and fans.
“Knowing that some horsemen have very few options this late in the Triple Crown prep season, we felt the right thing to do was to follow through with the plan to split the Rebel,” Smith said. “We also wanted to do it for the fans. We wouldn't even be in this position without the overwhelming support they've given us since the start of the season.”
In addition to two Rebel Stakes, Oaklawn will host the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2), which drew a field of six led by Grade 1 winners Elate, Eskimo Kisses, Shamrock Rose and Midnight Bisou and $350,000 Essex Handicap, which drew a field of nine including Giant Expectations and Sonneteer.
Oaklawn's 2019 live meet continues through Saturday, May 4. Immediately after that, Oaklawn will be breaking ground on a $100 million expansion.
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