CLAREMORE, Okla. – The trainers, jockeys and equine athletes alike are arriving once again for the 28-day thoroughbred meet returning to Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs on March 25. Track representatives are optimistic about a strong handle and a full field in its 13th year of operation, abandoning the traditional calendar for a later start date, allowing for more simulcast coverage across the country.
Races begin at 1:15 p.m. each day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The schedule drops the Wednesday race day on May 1, replacing it with a Saturday card to finish the meet on May 25 and include the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
“We expect to increase both field size and handle this spring,” said John Lies, racing secretary and track announcer for Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs. “A later start date should work in our favor, and we anticipate more trainers on the grounds this year. We also greatly value our growing relationship with TVG and strive to enhance our presence, avoiding post-time conflicts.”
The series offers nearly $500,000 in total for the Oklahoma-Bred Program, and more than $3.7 million in estimated total purses. The stakes races run a six-week period within the meet, offering eight races and guaranteeing no less than $50,000 per race.
Stakes races open on April 1 with the Wilma Mankiller Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up, going six furlongs for a guaranteed $50,000 purse. The Cinema Stakes on April 22 and Will Rogers Stakes the following day, April 23, are both no longer handicaps and have reduced the distance to 1 mile. The races are now stakes races at equal weights and guarantee $55,000 each.
The More Than Even Stakes for mares and fillies on May 20 and Cherokee Nation Classic Cup on May 21 for colts and geldings have been lengthened to a mile and 1/16th and close out the thoroughbred stakes races for 2019.
For the spring 2018 Will Rogers Downs meet, more than $15 million was wagered on live racing.