HOT SPRINGS -- Officials at Oaklawn Park have decided to split the Grade II Rebel Stakes into two divisions. Each race scheduled for Saturday will offer purses of $750,000.
Each 1 1/16-mile race will offer 63.75 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. The winners will earn 37.5 points, which have been enough to qualify for each Derby since the points system was put into place for the 2013 Derby. The Rebel originally was one of six nationwide races to offer 85 Derby points.
Saturday's original 10-race card expands to 11, with the first division of the Rebel set for post at 4:57 p.m. in the eighth race, and the second division scheduled for the 10th race at 6:06 p.m.
Last week, Oaklawn President Louis Cella said the Rebel would be split if 20 or more horses entered. There are only 19 entries, but Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said the track felt obliged to help owners and horsemen with opportunities for Derby qualification that was limited after Santa Anita Park in California suspended racing last week. The suspension included the cancellation of the San Felipe Stakes and the elimination of its 85 points.
"Knowing that some horsemen have very few options this late in the Triple Crown prep season, we felt the right thing to do was to follow through with the plan to split the Rebel," Smith said. "We also wanted to do it for the fans. We wouldn't even be in this position without the overwhelming support they've given us since the start of the season."
Rebel entries of horses originally targeted toward the San Felipe include colts Game Winner and Improbable, currently ranked first and second among 3-year-olds, respectively, in Horse Racing Nation's Kentucky Derby media poll. Each is trained by Bob Baffert, a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
"We never dreamed the day would come they would close down Santa Anita, but we're getting through it," Baffert said. "The main thing is that the 3-year-olds, they're doing well. I think it's very nice of them to split that race. That's the key thing."
A total of 21 horses have been euthanized after they were injured in races or training at Santa Anita since late December. The track suspended training and racing March 5.
With the split, Oaklawn's Saturday card features four stakes races, including three Grade II races with the two Rebels, and the $350,000 1 1/16-mile Azeri Stakes for fillies and mares 4 years old and up. The $300,000 1 1/16-mile Essex Handicap for horses 4 years old and up is the card's other stakes race.
Oaklawn also announced its third purse increase of the season. Beginning today, purses for open allowance races will increase from $88,000 to $95,000. Open maidens will race for $90,000, up from $83,000. All other races will have purses raised between $2,000 and $4,000.
"Just a few years ago, we were running open maidens for $40,000 and proud of it," Cella said. "Now they are at $90,000, and who ever thought we'd be in the position to split the Rebel into two divisions? Today is an extremely proud moment in Oaklawn's history."
Sports on 03/14/2019
Print Headline: Oaklawn to field 2 Rebel divisions