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  Hot Springs, Hot Horses !    

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2020 Update

Oaklawn continues to be a premier site of winter racing. Not your typical racino, during the racing season betters are actually on the apron watching the races, not tethered to a slot machine or simulcast screen. The biggest change, it is now called Oaklawn Racing & Gaming, sadly no more Oaklawn Park.

Oaklawn Park is a one mile dirt oval located within the city limits of Hot Springs, about sixty miles from Little Rock. The facility is glass enclosed and has seating for 26,200 and parking for 5,000 cars. Dining is provided in the Carousel Terrace and the Oaklawn Club, a private club. Racing is run from January to April, featuring the Racing Festival of the South and concluding with the Grade One, Arkansas Derby. Oaklawn Park also has year round gaming and simulcasting. The stable area can accommodate 1,600 horses.      

Located in  the resort  city of Hot Springs  Oaklawn Park has  been hosting  racing since 1905, when it ran a six day  meet. One of a handful of American racetracks around today that survived the anti gambling era of the early meets between  1905 and 1934.

 In  1934  pari-mutual wagering ushered  in a new start  for the only thoroughbred track in Arkansas. Over the years many improvements were made to the Hot Springs site  in both infrastructure and purses. Today it is one of the premiere winter racing sites in the country.

Oaklawn ParkWinners Choice

In the nineteen seventies Oaklawn Park started to gain national attention  when Arkansas Derby winners started doing well in Triple Crown races. In 1983 Sunny's Halo captured the Kentucky Derby and Hot Springs, Arkansas became a legitimate path to Louisville the first Saturday in May.

 In 2011 Oaklawn Park ran it's normal January to April schedule  ending with the Arkansas Derby. Cliff Berry took top riding honors. Oaklawn had a purse value index of 40, making it one of the top tracks in the country.

 In 2012 Oaklawn ran from January to April concluding with the Grade I Arkansas Derby. The derby was won easily by Bodemeister with Mike Smith aboard. M.C. Berry repeated as leading rider and the purse value index increased to 41.

I had the pleasure of visiting Oaklawn Park, for three weekends way back in 1966. It was my first visit to a major track and my first derby. Better Sea with Johnny Sellers up won the Arkansas Derby, I put thirty bucks on the nose of Eladio who ran second and paid $21 to place $11 to show, learned a lesson that day. For some reason I really liked journeyman jockey Jack Fiselman, he rode my favorite horse Help on Way. I also saw a horse named Swift Ruler win the Oaklawn Handicap. Back then the Arkansas Derby purse was $50,000 and stakes weren't graded yet. I did spend some time in Arkansas in 2013 and lied to myself that I should make it back to Oaklawn, but never did.

2020 Update

2020 was to be an exciting year at Oaklawn Park, "The Winter Place" for racing was in the process of a $100 million upgrade, which included a seven story hotel overlooking the track, a multi purpose event center and a 28,000 square foot addition to the gaming area. Oaklawn opened on January 24th to an estimated crowd of 20,000 who had to deal with the Hotel construction which was still in progress, but the casino upgrade was completed, of course, that's where the money comes from. It looked like a banner year, then the unthinkable happened.

As a thing called the Coronavirus begin to sweep across the country, Oaklawn made a statement on March 12, that the track and casino would remain open, taking extra precautions against the virus. On March 31, that policy was amended and the casino would close, the racetrack would continue to operate, but no fans would be allowed to attend. Oaklawn would be one of few tracks who kept racing alive during the early stages of the Pandemic. When the 2020 season ended on the first Saturday in May, it was the Arkansas, not the Kentucky Derby that was in the spotlight. The race had an overflow entry box and had to be run in two divisions. Hopefully in 2021 things will return to normal, the Arkansas Derby will return as a prep for the Kentucky Derby, which will return on the first Saturday of May. In closing out 2020 at Oaklawn, my thanks to everyone involved from saving me from a lockdown without the sport I love.