Horse racing fans from states across the South and beyond will begin making pilgrimages to Oaklawn Park, a mecca for racing in Hot Springs, Ark., for opening day on Jan. 13. The influx will continue until the track’s closing day on April 15. They come for championship racing and the vibrant scene.
Oaklawn is prime prepping ground for horses on the road to Triple Crown races. The track provided a path for victories in ten Triple Crown races in the past ten years. 2016 Arkansas Derby winner Creator became the most recent horse to join these ranks when he rode to victory in the Belmont Stakes. Before Creator, the track was the springboard to American Pharoah’s Triple Crown victory.
No other track offers more points towards eligibility into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Four races provide over $2.5 million in purses and 289 points. These races are the Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 16, the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 20, the Rebel Stakes on March 18, and the Arkansas Derby on April 15.
All of these Triple Crown prep races are for 3-year-olds. This year, Oaklawn also seeks to attract the nation’s top horses ages 4 and up. The purses for the Razorback Handicap on Feb. 20 and the Essex Handicap on March 18 have been raised. Both of these races lead up to the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 15.
Oaklawn has raised total purses for the ninth consecutive year, offering $29 million in 2017. This ranks it among the top racetracks in the country in average daily purse size.
Vic Stauffer will be a new face at Oaklawn in 2017, becoming the track’s sixth announcer since it opened in 1904. Stauffer has called over 40,000 races at almost a dozen tracks, and he commanded the booth at Hollywood Park for 13 years until it closed in December 2013.
In addition to being a talented announcer, Stauffer is also a skilled handicapper. Oaklawn fans will benefit from this expertise since the track announcer offers his picks before each race. Stauffer has won many online tournaments, and in 2016, he won two on-track, live money tournaments: the Preakness Challenge at Santa Anita and the Winter Challenge at Del Mar. Each of these tournaments was worth about $70,000 in prize money. Additionally, he banked $49,000 for finishing 14th in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.
Fans coming opening weekend can enjoy two popular promotions: 50-cent corned beef sandwiches on Saturday, Jan. 14, and a free ball cap giveaway on Monday, Jan. 16.
Other well-attended race days include the Presidents’ Day progressive cash giveaway on Feb. 20 and the boat and truck giveaway April 1. Weather permitting, the infield will be open the final few Saturdays of the meet. This park-within-the-park offers a beer garden and a kids’ zone.
Arkansas Derby day, the conclusion of the meet, is one of the most well-attended days of racing anywhere, with over 60,000 people at the track.
Any day of racing is a good day to be at Oaklawn Park. Make plans to come to this historic track in 2017!