The $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, which is one of only five Grade 1 races on the road to the Kentucky Derby, has a long history of producing top contenders for the three races that comprise Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.

Since its inaugural running in1936, two winners of the Arkansas Derby have go on to win the Kentucky Derby—Sunny's Halo in 1983 and Smarty Jones in 2004. There have also been two winners of the Arkansas Derby that would go on to win the Triple Crown's final leg, the Belmont Stakes. They are Temperance Hill (1980) and Victory Gallop (1998).

Arkansas Derby winners have found particular success in the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Elocutionist (1976), Tank's Prospect (1985), Pine Bluff (1992), Smarty Jones (2004), Afleet Alex (2005) and Curlin (2007) all won the Arkansas Derby and would later add the Preakness.

The Arkansas Derby also received another big boost in 2010 when runner-up Super Saver went on to win the Kentucky Derby, providing trainer Todd Pletcher with his only in the American classic.

Smarty Jones' 2004 run at Triple Crown glory was a particularly notable one that also played a large role in helping to get the Arkansas Derby upgraded to a Grade 1. That year Oaklawn Park officials offered a $5 million bonus to any horse that could sweep the track's top 3-year-old races, the Southwest Stakes, Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby and then go on to win the Kentucky Derby. It seemed an extremely far-fetched proposition. However, Smarty Jones did just that on his way to becoming the first undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby since Seattle Slew in 1977.

A large field of contenders is expected for the 2012 Arkansas Derby, which is scheduled for April 14 and will be televised on NBC. Pletcher is expected to try and reproduce Super Saver's success by sending a pair of colts that are currently a bit under the radar to Arkansas. Heavy Breathing will return to the starting gate just two weeks after finishing third in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. Stat will return to the stakes ranks for Pletcher following a sharp win an Allowance race at Gulfstream Park last month.

Others being pointed to the Arkansas Derby are Secret Circle and Bodemeister, two of the West Coast's leading contenders for trainer Bob Baffert; Optimizer, who exits a second to Secret Circle in the Rebel Stakes; and Isn't He Clever, who finished second in the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby in his previous start.

The fastest running of the Arkansas Derby, which dates back to 1936, occurred in 1984 when Althea completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in a blistering 1:46.80. Eleven different trainers are tied for most Arkansas Derby wins with two apiece, and Pat Day leads all jockeys with three Arkansas Derby wins.

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