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One of two Grade 1 events at the track, the Apple Blossom Handicap in 2018 becomes Oaklawn Park's third richest race.

The Apple Blossom, for older fillies and mares, has been bumped to $700,000 for its Friday, April 13 running, Oaklawn announced on Wednesday. The mile-and-sixteenth race is held on the eve of the season-ending Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, a Kentucky Derby prep worth $1 million.

"The Apple Blossom is one of our marquee races and a race of its stature deserved a purse increase," said Oaklawn official Louis Cella. "The long list of winners is a who's who of some of the best racemares 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 her year off in this great race."

(Stellar Wind, a 5-year-old mare trained by John Sadler, scored her third Grade 1 victory of the year in Sunday's Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar in Southern California, site of this year's Breeders' Cup.)

Also receiving a purse increase is the $300,000 Essex Handicap on Saturday, March 17. The mile-and-sixteenth race for older horses received a $100,000 increase in 2017, plus a move to Rebel Stakes Day. Mor Spirit won the 2017 Essex for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, later winning the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at New York's Belmont Park.

For the second consecutive year, Oaklawn offers the Grade 3 $500,000 Razorback Handicap as a prep race to the Dubai World Cup. The Razorback shares the Monday, Feb. 19 card with the Grade 3 $500,000 Southwest. Gun Runner won the 2017 Razorback before finishing second to Arrogate in the World Cup, later winning the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

The Essex shares the card with the Grade 2 $900,000 Rebel for 3-year-olds and the Grade 2 $350,000 Azeri for older fillies and mares.

"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 in a release. "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 Met Mile.

"We have the best stakes program for 3-year-olds along the Triple Crown trail," Smith said. "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 for 3-year-old sprinters from early March to Feb. 24, offering more time for horses who may wish to stretch out to 1 1/16 miles in the Rebel three weeks later.

Highlighting the 2018 season is the Racing Festival of the South Thursday-Saturday April 12-14, the final three days of the meeting. It features the $150,000 Bachelor April 12, the Apple Blossom and Grade 3 $400,000 Fantasy April 13 and the Arkansas Derby, Grade 2 $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap, Grade 3 $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap and $150,000 Northern Spur April 14.

Oaklawn's 31 stakes for 2018 are worth $8.525 million within a total purse structure estimated at $30 million. The live racing season begins Friday, Jan. 12.

2018 Oaklawn Park stakes schedule

Friday, Jan. 12: $125,000 Fifth Season, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, Jan. 13: $125,000 Pippin, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Monday, Jan. 15: $150,000 Smarty Jones, 3-year-olds, one mile.

Saturday, Jan. 20: $125,000 Dixie Belle, 3-year-old fillies, six furlongs.

Saturday, Jan. 27: $125,000 American Beauty, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, six furlongs.

Saturday, Feb. 3: $125,000 King Cotton, 4-year-olds and up, six furlongs.

Saturday, Feb. 10: $125,000 Martha Washington, 3-year-old fillies, one mile.

Saturday, Feb. 17: $150,000 Grade 3 Bayakoa, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Monday, Feb. 20: $500,000 Grade 3 Razorback Handicap, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Monday, Feb. 20: $500,000 Grade 3 Southwest, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, Feb. 24: $100,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders' Cup, Arkansas-bred fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up, six furlongs.

Saturday, Feb. 24: $125,000 Gazebo, 3-year-olds, six furlongs.

Saturday, March 3: $100,000 Nodouble Breeders', Arkansas-bred 3-year-olds and up, six furlongs.

Saturday, March 3: $125,000 Spring Fever, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, 5 1/2 furlongs.

Saturday, March 10: $125,000 Hot Springs, 4-year-olds and up, six furlongs.

Saturday, March 10: $200,000 Grade 3 Honeybee, 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, March 17: $300,000 Essex Handicap, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, March 17: $350,000 Grade 2 Azeri, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, March 17: $900,000 Grade 2 Rebel, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, March 24: $150,000 Purple Martin, 3-year-old fillies, six furlongs.

Friday, March 30: $100,000 Rainbow, Arkansas-bred 3-year-olds, six furlongs.

Saturday, March 31: $100,000 Rainbow Miss, Arkansas-bred 3-year-old fillies, six furlongs.

Saturday, April 7: $100,000, Arkansas Breeders' Open, Arkansas-bred 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, April 7: $150,000 Carousel, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, six furlongs.

Thursday, April 12: $150,000 Bachelor, 3-year-olds, six furlongs.

Friday, April 13: $400,000 Grade 3 Fantasy, 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles.

Friday, April 13: $700,000 Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, April 14: $150,000 Northern Spur, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles.

Saturday, April 14: $400,000 Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, 4-year-olds and up, six furlongs.

Saturday, April 14: $750,000 Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, 4-year-olds and up, nine furlongs.

Saturday, April 14: $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, 3-year-olds and up, nine furlongs.

Sports on 08/03/2017

Print Headline: Oaklawn bumps Apple Blossom, Essex purses for '18 race meet

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