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
|2020, First Division||Charlatan|
|2020, Second Division||Nadal|
|2010||Line of David|
|1972||No Le Hace|
|1971||Twist the Axe|
|1960, First Division||Spring Broker|
|1960, Second Division||Persian Gold|
For additional information:
A Century of Excitement, Oaklawn 1904–2004. Media Guide. Hot Springs, AR: Oaklawn Park, 2004.
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. http://www.oaklawn.com/ (accessed September 29, 2021).
Perkins, Pete. “Arkansas Derby to Be Split into Two Divisions.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 27, 2020, pp. 1C, 4C.
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
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