Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella wanted to do something big to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the racetrack that had been a part of his family since 1904. So big, in fact, the sport of horse racing has never seen anything like it.
Cella, his sons John and Louis, and other officials from Oaklawn will fly to Philadelphia Monday to present the $5 million Centennial Bonus check to Roy and Patricia Chapman, the owners of Smarty Jones, the unbeaten colt who captured the Oaklawn Centennial Bonus with an impressive victory on a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Trainer John Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott will also be on hand.
The presentation of the check, the largest bonus in North American horse racing history, will be made at Smarty Jones' home base of Philadelphia Park in the Pennsylvania Derby dining room at noon EDT on May 10.
"We have been weighing several options on where and when to present the Chapmans with this prize, and would have loved to been able to do this in Little Rock in the same room where we made the announcement of the Centennial Bonus last October." Cella said. "Because Mr. Chapman's health won't allow him to travel, we thought we'd be best served by going to Philadelphia to present the check there. Hal Handel, president of Philadelphia Park, where Smarty Jones won his first two races, has graciously agreed to host the luncheon."
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has issued a proclamation declaring Friday, May 14, the eve of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), as "Smarty Jones Day in Arkansas."
Cella offered the Oaklawn Centennial Bonus to any horse that could win the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby (gr. II) at Oaklawn as well as the Kentucky Derby. Only one other horse had ever successfully accomplished the unique triple – Sunny's Halo in 1983 -- and Smarty Jones became the first horse to ever win all three Oaklawn 3-year-old distance races (the Southwest Stakes, Rebel and Arkansas Derby) and the Kentucky Derby. Smarty Jones also became the first unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner since Seattle Slew in 1977.
"I have been around horse racing for more than 50 years and have seen a lot of the sport's greatest races, but watching Smarty Jones pull away for the win in Kentucky was the greatest sports moment I have ever witnessed," Cella said. "I wanted that horse to win as much as anybody. We feel as though he has become part of our family and I think I can speak for all Arkansas horse racing fans in echoing the same sentiments. He has become a true Arkansas sports hero and no state appreciates its sports heroes with greater affection than Arkansas."