Taking a Bite of Oaklawn’s Opening Day

Events / Travel

Opening weekend at Oaklawn Park features food and drink specials in an Arkansas tradition. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

Oaklawn Park opens next Thursday, serving the south world-class racing and delectable corned beef. For the 12th year, Thursday features a 50-cent corned beef sandwich and 10-cent soda promotion. For this day, six tons of corned beef will be prepared. Once cooked, approximately 6,000 pounds of meat turns in to roughly 25,000 sandwiches.

The famed corned beef sandwich was one of the amenities that drew me to the track for my first visit. Oaklawn’s website, which proclaims the sandwich to be “the best corned beef sandwich in the universe,” also includes this gem: “there are some who come to the track and find that the best experience is simply the corned beef sandwich.” I fell in love with more than just the food, but the corned beef alone was probably worth the trip. The sandwiches, made with thinly sliced, slightly salty pink meat, are so thick I usually use a fork, knife and copious amounts of napkins.

Belinda Castleberry, Oaklawn's director of food and beverage, began her career at Oaklawn over 20 years ago. She was willing to unlock some mysteries of the popular promotion.

“Louis Cella [Son of Oaklawn President Charles Cella and a member of the Oaklawn Board of Directors] came up with the idea for our centennial in 2004 as a good way to kick off the season,” Castleberry said. “We have continued every year since. Now, racing fans all over Arkansas call it Corned Beef Day.”

Castleberry said that the corned beef arrives at Oaklawn from Kelly Eisenberg, a gourmet deli products company in Chicago.

AN OAKLAWN FOOD STAND

“Preparation begins early,” she said. “Once cooked and ready to go, sandwiches are stored in containers under refrigeration to dispense to the various locations.  As we get past the first initial volume, sandwiches are made fresh right at the stand.” 

Castleberry said this is one of her busiest days of the year.

“Our total staffing that day will reach 400, and approximately 150 staff members will deal directly with the corned beef promotion,” she said. “And we do sell out.”

Come get a 50-cent corned beef before they are gone. The sandwich usually costs $6.00, and although the sodas are only ten cents, a winning exacta is playing the also famous margarita with the corned beef. Join the feeding frenzy at Oaklawn Park!

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