In 2004, Oaklawn Park offered a $5 million bonus to any horse that could sweep its three-year-old graded stakes, the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby, and then take the Kentucky Derby. This helped increase participation from the top three-year-olds in the country to the point where the American Graded Stakes Committee made the Arkansas Derby a Grade I race in 2010. Smarty Jones was the first horse to collect the bonus.
Past winners of the race have gone on to win many American Classic Races. 1980 winner Temperence Hill and 1998's Victory Gallop both went on to capture the Belmont Stakes. Sunny's Halo won the 1983 Kentucky Derby as did Smarty Jones in 2004. Elocutionist, Tank's Prospect, Pine Bluff, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin all won the Preakness Stakes. The 1994 winner, Concern, won that year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
The inaugural race in 1936 offered a total purse of $5,000. The first winner was Holl Image, who was owned and trained by Jack Carter.
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