The Arkansas Derby is an American flat Thoroughbred horse race for three-year-olds held annually in April at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It is currently a Grade I race run over a distance of 9 furlongs on dirt.
In 2004, to celebrate its 100th anniversary, 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. Smarty Jones's would collect the bonus. The exposure from Smarty Jones subsequent run at the Triple Crown 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.
Past winners of the race have gone on to win many American Classic Races. Sunny's Halo won the 1983 Kentucky Derby, as did Smarty Jones in 2004 and American Pharoah in 2015. Elocutionist (1976), Tank's Prospect (1985), Pine Bluff (1992), Smarty Jones (2004), Afleet Alex (2005), Curlin (2007), and American Pharoah (2015) all won the Preakness Stakes.1980 winner Temperence Hill, 1998's Victory Gallop, 2005's Afleet Alex, and 2015's American Pharoah all went on to capture the Belmont Stakes, as did Creator in 2016. The 1994 winner, Concern, won that year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
The most celebrated Arkansas Derby champion is American Pharoah, who became the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. He is the first Arkansas Derby champion to win the Triple Crown. Like Smarty Jones, he too swept the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby. The current Arkansas Derby champion is Creator.
Prior to American Pharoah's 2015 Triple Crown, Curlin had been the most decorated Arkansas Derby Winner, after winning races that included the 2007 Preakness Stakes, the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, and the 2008 Dubai World Cup. For his efforts, Curlin won the Eclipse Award in both 2007 and 2008 for American Horse of the Year, the highest honor given in American thoroughbred horse racing. Curlin was later admitted to thoroughbred racing's National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
The inaugural Arkansas Derby in 1936 offered a total purse of $5,000. The first winner was Holl Image, who was owned and trained by Jack Carter.
The race was run in two divisions in 1960.