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HOT SPRINGS -- Oaklawn Park might split the Grade III $1 million 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes into two divisions to provide another option for 3-year-old horses displaced by a suspension of racing at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., Oaklawn President Louis Cella said Wednesday.

If 20 or more enter the Rebel, two divisions of 10 or more 3-year-old horses will compete for separate purses of $750,000.

"From a financial standpoint, splitting the race makes no sense whatsoever," Cella said. "If we split it, it will be strictly on the basis of sportsmanship and what is best for top 3-year-olds trying to get to Kentucky."

The Rebel will distribute 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with 50 to the winner, if run as a single field of 14 or fewer horses as scheduled on March 16. Horses in two divisions would each race for totals of 63.75 points as designated by current Derby qualification rules. The winners would earn 37.5 points, enough to have qualified for each Derby since the points system was put into place for 2013 Kentucky Derby.

Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said Oaklawn officials spoke with horsemen around the country Wednesday.

"Plus, we reached out to Arkansas Racing Commission Chairman Alex Lieblong and to Bill Walmsley, president of the Arkansas division of the [Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association]. Both gentlemen were completely supportive of our effort."

A total of 21 horses have died as a result of injuries at Santa Anita since late December. The 21st death occurred after a filly was injured and subsequently euthanized Tuesday. Twelve died as a result of racing and nine during morning workouts. The California Horse Racing Board's equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur told the Los Angeles Times that he supported the track's decision to suspend racing through at least this weekend.

"There certainly needs to be a stand-down and review of the situation and everything that needs to be fixed is fixed." Dr. Arthur said.

Among the delayed races at Santa Anita is the San Felipe Stakes, a Derby prep scheduled for Saturday that also offers 85 qualifying points.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert planned to race colts Game Winner and Improbable in the San Felipe and will now have to find other races for their 3-year-old debuts. Game Winner is currently third with 30 points and Improbable 13th with 10 on the Kentcky Derby-qualifying points list. The Derby field is limited to 20 horses.

Other 85-point Kentucky Derby preps scheduled for Saturday are the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida and the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in New York. The Jeff Ruby Stakes offers 34 points at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., on Saturday.

The Rebel Stakes stands alone among Derby preps scheduled for March 16. The Louisiana Derby offers 170 points at Fair Grounds in New Orleans on March 23, and the Sunland Derby 85 points at Sunland Park in New Mexico on March 24.

Since the points system was put into place, the 20th and final qualifier has made the field with an average of 23.8 points. That average for the last three seasons has increased to 30.3.

Thoroughbred owner Dwight Pruett of Texarkana had already decided to hold his colt Gray Attempt out of the Rebel because of injuries from a collision in Oaklawn's Grade III 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18, when he finished ninth. Gray Attempt won Oaklawn's 1 mile Smarty Jones on Jan. 25 and is ranked 17th on the points list. Pruett said he will likely next enter Gray Attempt in the Arkansas Derby on April 13, but he said he saluted Oaklawn's Rebel offer.

"I really have to praise them for this," Pruett said. "It seems like Louis and Oaklawn try to do everything they can to make Oaklawn the premier racetrack in America and definitely in the Southwest."

Sports on 03/07/2019

Print Headline: Viable Rebel Stakes split to help Derby horsemen

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