Choose a Color, Pick a Winner: On-Track Tip Sheets Are an Oaklawn Tradition

Stands inside Oaklawn Park offer locals’ tip sheets in a variety of colors. (Eclipse Sportswire)

A hallmark of visiting Oaklawn Park is the greeting from the colorful tip sheets offered at booths across the first floor of the track. On any given race day, the work of ten tipsters is sold. Names like Silent Sam, Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell and Mark the Magician are household names at Oaklawn.   

Each tip sheet has its signature color. Among the rainbow offerings: STATS, which is light green; the Oaklawn Kid in royal blue; and the pale yellow Inside Connection.

Abby Smith, chief financial officer of Arkansas Racing and News, has coordinated with handicappers for 20 years to make their tip sheets available.

“We keep track of which ones are good and which ones aren’t,” Smith said. “They get paid per winner. They get bonuses for best sheet of the week, the best daily doubles and the best exactas.”

Unsuccessful tip sheets are discontinued.

“I enjoy watching people buy a tip sheet that is not a gimmick,” Smith said.

Top-class racing at Oaklawn. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In addition to being successful, some of the sheets boast longevity. Stable Boy has been offered the longest: almost 100 years. Private Label has been around for seventy years. Silent Sam, the Bull Sheet and Collier’s have been picking winners for sixty years.

“We’ve never had a handicapper leave us. They pass away,” Smith said. “When this happens, I contact someone I think may be a good fit for taking over the sheet.”

The most successful sheet historically? Silent Sam.

“Silent Sam has been the best sheet for 21 years in a row,” Smith said.

The age range of the handicappers is mid-30s to mid-80s. Outside of writing the tip sheets, many have jobs in the horse racing industry.

“Silent Sam used to write for a Thoroughbred magazine. Collier’s works for Oaklawn Anywhere. Stable Boy is a professional gambler. He goes from track to track. He is the last of a dying breed,” Smith said.

Smith is the fourth generation in her family in racing. In addition to printing the tip sheets, Arkansas Racing and News is the on-track distributor for the racing programs and Daily Racing Form.

“I was born at Oaklawn,” Smith said. “I grew up learning to read the Daily Racing Form. I love everything about my job. I love the crowds at Oaklawn. I love watching the new generations of patrons show up and enjoy the sport. I love how high-strung it can be on a daily basis. Fifty-four days of high capacity.”

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