In an unprecedented move, the Oaklawn Jockey Club announced today that it stands ready to split the $1 million Rebel Stakes on Saturday, March 16.
The announcement came just hours after Santa Anita racetrack in California announced it is suspending racing indefinitely due to poor weather and track conditions. The Santa Anita suspension has the potential to upend traditional West Coast prep races for the Kentucky Derby.
If the Rebel is split, each division will carry a purse of $750,000, and each division will offer 63.75 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
In making the announcement, Oaklawn President Louis Cella said he hopes the situation in California resolves itself quickly, precluding any reason to split the Rebel. “But if that is not the case, Oaklawn stands ready to help horsemen around the country,” said Cella.
Cella added, “From a financial standpoint, splitting the race makes no sense whatsoever. If we split it, it will be strictly on the basis of sportsmanship and what is best for the sport and best for top three year olds trying to get to Kentucky.”
Cella said both divisions of the Rebel would need to attract a minimum of ten runners in order to justify the split.
According to Oaklawn general manager Wayne Smith, track officials were on the phone all day Wednesday with horsemen around the country. “Plus we reached out to Arkansas Racing Chairman Alex Lieblong and to Bill Walmsley, president of the Arkansas division of the HBPA. Both gentlemen were completely supportive of our offer.”
The deadline for nominating to the Rebel Stakes was to have been midnight, March 7. But, Smith said the deadline is going to be pushed back to midnight, Friday, March 8.
If the Rebel is split, it will be first time in American racing history for a million dollar race to be split and run in two divisions.