Oaklawn Park is a refreshing change of pace in the winter months. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., offers a magnificent diversion from post-holiday, mid-winter melancholy. Live racing resumes Jan. 9 and runs through April 11.
The health of racing is extremely strong in Arkansas thanks to visionary leadership and dedicated supporters. Therefore, Oaklawn is an excellent destination for newcomers curious about racing or die-hard fans who have not yet put a check next to us on the list of racetracks visited in North America.
Oaklawn is a vibrant, successful track. For the seventh consecutive year, Oaklawn raised purses with $23.5-million to be dispersed in 2015, ranking it among the top racetracks in the country in average daily purse size. In fact, this money attracted applications for almost twice as many horses as the barn area can accommodate. These purses ensure quality racing with national significance.
RACING AT OAKLAWN
The Road to the Kentucky Derby, the points system that grants entry to the race, runs through Hot Springs. Oaklawn hosts four of the 34 qualifying races (all excellent choices for a day at Oaklawn). The lineup features the Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 19, the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 16, the Rebel Stakes on March 14 and the Arkansas Derby on April 11.
Only two tracks, Santa Anita and Aqueduct, have more than four qualifying races. The Arkansas Derby is one of the seven events offering the highest number of points. These races guarantee national stars will come to Hot Springs.
In recent years, horses who prepped at Oaklawn have won not only the Kentucky Derby but many other Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races. The 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Bayern, placed for the first time in a Grade 1 race with his third-place finish in the 2014 Arkansas Derby. Will Take Charge, Eclipse Award winner as 2013 champion 3-year-old male, called Oaklawn home. Oxbow, the 2013 Preakness winner, ran in both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby.
WILL TAKE CHARGE WINS THE OAKLAWN HANDICAP
The tradition of highly decorated Thoroughbreds racing at Oaklawn figures to continue in 2015. Five Breeders’ Cup standouts are expected for the meet including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Take Charge Brandi, Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Work All Week and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Untapable. Breeders’ Cup runners-up Tapiture, in the Dirt Mile, and Don’t Tell Sophia, in the Distaff, will also compete at Oaklawn.
Not only is Oaklawn’s racing high quality, it also is well attended. Supporters refer to the meet as the “fifth season” (spring, summer, fall, winter, Oaklawn), and the Fifth Season Stakes will run on the second day of live racing.
Hot Springs is a quaint resort town — population 35,680 — nowhere near the size of the metropolitan homes of other race tracks.
Especially on weekends, Oaklawn is the place to be for people from miles around. The turnout for the Arkansas Derby is consistently impressive: the past five years, the event has drawn more than 60,000 people. The past three years, the Arkansas Derby attracted larger crowds than Breeders’ Cup Saturday.
The demand for boxed seats is a testament to the track’s popularity. Trainer Ron Moquett once referred to Oaklawn boxed seats as “the most coveted real estate in racing.” I have first-hand coveting experience. We put our name on the list for a box in 2011, and I recently checked on our position with a polite Oaklawn representative involved in the list’s maintenance. She explained that in the previous year every single box-holder renewed. Not one person on the waiting list was granted a box.
From what I learned about the speed at which people move up the list, I might get that box in 30 years when I’m retired and able to attend every race day. I’ll channel Virginia Kelley, Bill Clinton’s mother, who was an Oaklawn regular and loved to pregame at Rocky’s across the street.
Oaklawn offers a robust atmosphere and quality races plus a famed corned beef sandwich and a stellar margarita. In addition to Oaklawn, Hot Springs boasts several lakes, one of America’s first national parks, luxurious spas, exquisite dining, a storied gangster history and striking art galleries.
For exceptional relaxation and entertainment in the early months of 2015, visit this colorful town and jewel of racing.