Arkansas Derby

The Arkansas Derby is the most lucrative thoroughbred horse race in Arkansas, currently offering a “purse” of $1 million. The purse is the prize money that is divided among the horses competing in the race, based upon their finish, with the winner receiving sixty percent ($600,000). The one-and-one-eighth-mile race is restricted to horses that are three years old. It is traditionally held each year at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs (Garland County) on the second Saturday of April. Over time, it has developed into one of the nation’s leading preparatory races for the Triple Crown, which comprises the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

The Arkansas Derby was first held in 1936 and carried a $5,000 purse. The winner that year was Holl Image, who went on to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby. The purse was increased to $50,000 in 1965, and it became Oaklawn’s first $100,000 race in 1972. The purse underwent several more increases throughout the years and was raised to $1 million in 2004, the year the track celebrated its centennial.

The race has been held every year since 1936, with the exception of 1945, when Oaklawn was forced to cancel its entire racing meet because of World War II. The race was run in two divisions in 1960 to accommodate a large number of horses. The Arkansas Derby has been won by one female horse—Althea in 1984. Althea also holds the record for the fastest Arkansas Derby time of 1:46.8.

The first Arkansas Derby winner to win a Triple Crown race was Elocutionist, who won the 1976 race and that year’s Preakness Stakes. Sunny’s Halo became the race’s first Kentucky Derby winner in 1983. Someday Farm’s Smarty Jones won the Arkansas Derby in 2004 and earned a $5 million bonus for also winning Oaklawn’s Southwest and Rebel stakes and the Kentucky Derby. Smarty Jones followed his Kentucky Derby triumph by winning the Preakness Stakes and just missed winning the Triple Crown after taking second in the Belmont Stakes. In 2015, American Pharoah won the Arkansas Derby and followed that up by becoming the first Triple Crown winner in thirty-seven years. As of 2015, the Arkansas Derby has produced six Kentucky Derby winners, eleven Preakness Stakes winners, and six Belmont Stakes winners.

In 2020, the Arkansas Derby was split into two divisions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had resulted in the closure of racetracks across the country.

List of Arkansas Derby Winners

2023 Angel of Empire
2022 Cyberknife
2021 Super Stock
2020, First Division Charlatan
2020, Second Division Nadal
2019 Omaha Beach
2018 Magnum Moon
2017 Classic Empire
2016 Creator
2015 American Pharoah
2014 Danza
2013 Overanalyze
2012 Bodemeister
2011 Archarcharch
2010 Line of David
2009 Papa Clem
2008 Gayego
2007 Curlin
2006 Lawyer Ron
2005 Afleet Alex
2004 Smarty Jones
2003 Sir Cherokee
2002 Private Emblem
2001 Balto Star
2000 Graeme Hall
1999 Certain
1998 Victory Gallop
1997 Crypto Star
1996 Zarb’s Magic
1995 Dazzling Falls
1994 Concern
1993 Rockamundo
1992 Pine Bluff
1991 Olympio
1990 Silver Ending
1989 Dansil
1988 Proper Reality
1987 Demons Begone
1986 Rampage
1985 Tank’s Prospect
1984 Althea
1983 Sunny’s Halo
1982 Hostage
1981 Bold Ego
1980 Temperence Hill
1979 Golden Act
1978 Esops Foibles
1977 Clever Tell
1976 Elocutionist
1975 Promised City
1974 J.R.’s Pet
1973 Impecunious
1972 No Le Hace
1971 Twist the Axe
1970 Herbalist
1969 Traffic Mark
1968 Nodouble
1967 Monitor
1966 Better Sea
1965 Swift Ruler
1964 Prince Davelle
1963 Cosmic Tip
1962 Areopolis
1961 Light Talk
1960, First Division Spring Broker
1960, Second Division Persian Gold
1959 Al Davelle
1958 Count Deblanc
1957 Kentucky Roman
1956 Johns Chic
1955 Trim Destiny
1954 Timely Tip
1953 Curragh King
1952 Gushing Oil
1951 Ruhe
1950 Big Ike
1949 Cacomo
1948 Fertile Lands
1947 Fleetridge
1946 Bob Murphy
1945 No Running
1944 Challenge Me
1943 Seven Hearts
1942 With Regards
1941 He Rolls
1940 Super Chief
1939 Ariel Toy
1938 Tiger
1937 Eastport
1936 Holl Image

For additional information:
A Century of Excitement, Oaklawn 1904–2004. Media Guide. Hot Springs, AR: Oaklawn Park, 2004.

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. (accessed April 3, 2023).

Perkins, Pete. “Arkansas Derby to Be Split into Two Divisions.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 27, 2020, pp. 1C, 4C.

Jennifer Hoyt
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort


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