One of the richest and most prestigious Grade 1 races for older fillies and mares will be $100,000 richer in 2018.
The Apple Blossom Handicap is one of two stakes receiving a purse increase ahead of Oaklawn’s 2018 live season along with the Essex Handicap for older male horses, which was bumped $50,000. The $700,000 Apple Blossom will be run Friday, April 13, while the $300,000 Essex will be run Saturday, March 17 as part of Oaklawn’s total 31-race stakes schedule worth $8.525 million.
“The Apple Blossom is one of our marquee races and a race of its stature, deserves a purse increase,” Louis Cella said. “The long list of winners is a who’s who of some of the best race mares of all time from Bayakoa to Paseana to Azeri and of course, Zenyatta. Stellar Wind, the 2017 winner, is just one of many champions to kick off her year in this great race.”
The bump to the Essex is the second straight one for the 1 1/16 mile race following a $100,000 increase in 2017, and a move to Rebel Stakes Day where it now shares the card with the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares and the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds.
For the second consecutive year, Oaklawn will offer a lucrative alternative to horsemen looking for a race in advance of the Dubai World Cup by holding the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Monday, February 19, where it shares the card with the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) on Presidents’ Day. Gun Runner won the 2017 Razorback before finishing second to Arrogate in the World Cup and going on to an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap.
“We couldn’t have been more thrilled with the results of switching the Razorback and Essex Handicap on the stakes calendar,” General Manager Wayne Smith said. “Gun Runner was exactly the type of horse we were hoping to attract for the Razorback and Mor Spirit helped build the reputation of the Essex with his win in the Grade 1 Met Mile. We have the best stakes program for 3-year-olds along the Triple Crown trail. These purse bumps will ensure that our program for older horses of both genders will continue to take positive steps forward.”
In addition to the two purse increases, Oaklawn has moved the $125,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-olds sprinting six-furlongs from early March to Feb. 24 next year to offer more time for horses who may wish to stretch out to 1 1/16 miles in the Rebel Stakes three weeks later.
The highlight of the 2018 season will once again be the Racing Festival of the South which will run April 12-14, the final three days of the season. It will feature the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes Thursday, April 12, the $700,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) and $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) Friday, April 13, and conclude with the $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes, $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap and $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) Saturday, April 14.
Overall, Oaklawn will offer $30 million in purses next year. The 2018 Live Meet runs Friday, Jan. 12 through Saturday, April 14.
(from Oaklawn news release)