On Saturday, Hot Springs, Ark., presents a winning exacta: the 58th running of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and the First Ever 15th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Saturday’s card is the second most well-attended day of racing at Oaklawn, behind Arkansas Derby day. Offering over $2 million in purses, it is also the second-richest. Last year, 36,000 people packed the stands.
The day features three stakes races. The Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes offers 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Champions American Pharoah (2015), Curlin (2007) and Smarty Jones (2004) all won the Rebel. A second Grade 2, the $350,000 Azeri for older fillies and mares, will be contested, along with the $300,000 Essex Handicap for older horses.
Weather permitting, the infield at Oaklawn will be open for the first time this season. This vast playground for children and adults alike offers live music, bounce houses, a petting zoo, beer gardens and a unique perspective on the races. The infield is scheduled to be open the final five Saturdays of the season, beginning with the Rebel and ending with the Arkansas Derby.
The festivities of First Ever 15th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade begin on Friday. On Saturday, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders will entertain the crowd beforehand, and the main event officially starts at 7:30 p.m., giving racegoers time to line the streets. Jon Heder, who gained a following playing Napoleon Dynamite, is the parade starter. Joey Fatone of *NSYNC is the grand marshal. He will walk the 98-foot Bridge Street in the footsteps of fellow grand marshals Alfonso Ribeiro (who played Carlton on The Fresh Prince), Bo Derek, Kevin Bacon, Mario Lopez, Pauley Shore, and George Wendt (who played Norm on Cheers).
The Budweiser Clydesdales will appear at Oaklawn and the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The eight-horse hitch will be harnessed to the iconic red beer wagon at Oaklawn March 16 and will parade between the fifth and sixth races. The Clydesdales will exit the track and be stationed in the infield, and the public is invited to visit them. The eighth race will be called the Clydesdale Cup, and representatives from Budweiser present a trophy to the winning connections. The breed has a long history with Oaklawn. Up until the early 1980s, the Clydesdales were responsible for positioning the starting gate between the races, and the horses lived in the infield.
A popular local parade entry is the Irish Order of Elvis Impersonators. This year, one of their own is being honored as parade royalty. Anthony Valinoti, proprietor of the nationally-famous DeLuca’s Pizzeria Napoletana, is the parade king. Rose Schweikhart, who developed and runs Superior Bathhouse Brewery on Bathhouse Row, is the queen.
“We couldn’t have found two people more in tune with the atmosphere of wacky good fun surrounding our great little parade than Tony and Rose,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs and one of the creators this event. “Not only have their establishments brought nationwide favorable attention to Hot Springs, but Tony and Rose also fully understand how this event has grown to bring international media applause for our city.”
The evening will conclude with a free post-parade concert with Morris Day & The Time.