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Arkansas Derby History

History of the Arkansas Derby

The Arkansas Derby is held annually every April at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s for three-year-olds and has been running every year (minus 1945) since 1936. It’s run on a dirt surface and left-handed track. As of 2017, the race has been designated as a grade one stakes event since 2010 and is run at a distance of nine furlongs. The inaugural Arkansas Derby purse in 1936 was $5,000. It has since ballooned to $1 million in 2017.

Every year the Arkansas Derby is considered a major prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and is usually the last most important race on the prep circuit. Three horses in Arkansas Derby history have also won the Kentucky Derby in the same year: Sunny’s Halo (1983), Smarty Jones (2004), and American Pharoah (2015). American Pharoah is the only Arkansas Derby winner to also emerge victorious in all three Triple Crown races.

The Arkansas Derby was put on the map and hailed as a prestigious race because of a challenge that ran during its 100th anniversary in 2004. Oaklawn Park that year decided to offer a $5 million bonus to any horse who would win the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Stakes. Smarty Jones swept the trifecta and earned the bonus.

Arkansas Derby Records

The biggest margin of victory at the Arkansas Derby occurred in 2007, when United States Racing Hall of Fame inductee Curlin set the record by defeating Storm in May by 10 ½ lengths. Curlin was ridden to victory by jockey Robby Albarado and was trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.

The record for fastest time at the Arkansas Derby is 1:46.80. The record was set by Althea in 1984. The fastest winning time in the last 10 years was 1:48.52, courtesy of American Pharoah during his 2015 Triple Crown campaign.

The record for most Arkansas Derby wins by a jockey is held by Hall of Famer Pat Day, who won the event three times. Day won back-to-back Arkansas Derby races in 1986 and 1987, but wouldn’t win his third until 1997. Todd Pletcher holds the record for most Arkansas Derby wins by a trainer with four; he has won it in back-to-back years twice (2000-2001, 2013-2014).

Loblolly Stable with three titles holds the record for most Arkansas Derby wins by an owner.

Notable Arkansas Derby Winners

Many noteworthy and recognizable names have won the Arkansas Derby during their career. A few of the highlights:

  • American Pharoah – 2015 Triple Crown winner
  • Afleet Alex – two-time Triple Crown race winner (2005 Preakness Stakes, 2005 Belmont Stakes)
  • Smarty Jones – two-time Triple Crown race winner (2004 Kentucky Derby, 2004 Preakness Stakes)
  • Curlin – 2014 United States Racing Hall of Fame inductee