Record-setting Arkansas Derby (G1) and Rebel Stakes (G2) days contributed to an 11 percent increase in total handle during Oaklawn's recently concluded 2018 live season.
An estimated crowd of 64,500 turned out April 14 to watch Robert and Lawana Low's Magnum Moon remain a perfect four-for-four with his impressive victory in the $1 million Arkansas Derby. The total handle of $16,159,771 wagered on the 12-race card broke the previous single-day record of $15,133,537 set in 2000 on Arkansas Derby Day.
Four weeks earlier, a crowd of 37,500 came out to watch Magnum Moon win the $900,000 Rebel Stakes and the total handle that day of $10,771,984 was the highest non-Arkansas Derby Day in the 114-year history of the track.
“Despite missing two days due to weather in January and 16 inches of rain in February, we are extremely excited to have ended the meet with a double-digit increase in handle,” General Manager Wayne Smith said. “It's a testament to the great product we were able to put on the track this season. I want to thank the owners, trainers and jockeys who put on the greatest show in racing. I also want to thank our entire management team and staff for such an incredible season. Most of all, a huge thank you goes out to our fans for their continued support.”
Oaklawn raced 55 of 57 days after two weather cancellations in January for total handle of $209,695,403. The average total daily handle of $3,812,644 was up 15% over 2017. Export handle also saw the big gains during the 2018 season, growing by 15% to $175,125,149 despite racing two fewer days than 2017.
The horsemen once again benefitted from the highest purse structure of any winter-spring track in the country. Maiden Special Weights purses started at $75,000 and grew to $81,000 at the end of the season after two purse increases, while purses for open Allowances began at $76,000 and grew to as high as $83,000. The lucrative purses are demonstrated in the fact that 16 jockeys rode horses that earned more than $500,000 and 10 trainers stabled full time at Oaklawn earned more than $500,000. In addition, the claim box was extremely active during the season with 452 claims made for $7,241,500, a 16.3% increase over 2017.
“From start to finish, the quality of our racing had never been better,” Smith said. “Our regulars all had strong meets, but it was also great to see trainers like Doug O'Neill and Norm McKnight come in and find success as well as jockeys Gary Stevens, David Cohen and David Cabrera.”
Hall of Fame Trainer Steve Asmussen collected his ninth leading trainer title with 44 victories and $2,977,921 in purses, while his main jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. earned his sixth consecutive leading rider title with 69 wins and a single-season record of $4,240,304 in purses. Both trainer and jockey had a successful Racing Festival of the South. They teamed to win the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes with Mitole and Santana, who reached the 1,000-win milestone during the final week of racing, also won the $700,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) with Unbridled Mo and $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) with Whitmore.
Oaklawn will start a new tradition in 2019 when it opens Friday, Jan. 25 and continues the season through Saturday, May 4, 2019, marking the first time in its storied 115-year history that it has raced after Arkansas Derby Day. The 2019 Arkansas Derby will be run Saturday, April 13.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article had the incorrect closing date for next year's Oaklawn Park live race meeting. It is May 4, 2019.
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