Nine Ways to Make the Most of Arkansas Derby Day

Events / Travel
There are so many options for fans at Oaklawn Park to make the most of free general admission. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Hot Springs, Ark., will be the center of the horse racing world on Saturday with 100 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve points on the line in the Arkansas Derby. If you’re planning to go to Oaklawn Park for the big show, we have the guide you need to make the most out of your Saturday at the track.

1. Start your day off with Dawn at Oaklawn.

For the perfect start to your Saturday, head to the track early (between 7 and 9 a.m., to be exact) for Dawn at Oaklawn. Not only will you get the chance to hear top trainers and jockeys talk about the afternoon’s races, but there’s free coffee, pastries, and barn tours to set you up for a winning day.

2. Saturday’s races begin at 12:30 p.m. local time, but gates open a lot earlier.

The first race on Arkansas Derby day starts at 12:30 p.m., but if you want to score a great (and free!) seat outside, it’s good to know that the gates open at 10:30 a.m. And don’t worry about having to bring extra cash to pay the admission fee: Arkansas Derby day, like every day at Oaklawn, is completely free for grandstand attendance.

3. Once inside, immediately go and get a corned beef sandwich.

Look, I’m not certain, but I’m 90 percent sure* that there’s a law in Arkansas that states that everyone must try the corned beef sandwich at Oaklawn at least once. So head over to the sandwich counter on the first floor and get ready to enjoy one of the biggest, yummiest sandwiches of your life.

*This is definitely not true.

4. Follow it up with some soft serve.

OK, I think I’m starting to out myself as a glutton, but whatever. Oaklawn’s soft serve is legit, and nothing beats ice cream on a warm, spring day at the track. Trust me, I’m a doctor*.

*I’m not a doctor.

5. Once you’ve eaten all of the things, check out the saddling enclosure.

The Oaklawn saddling enclosure is unusual in that it’s located inside of the grandstand; that allows fans to easily gather around the area where the Thoroughbreds are prepared for each race. It’s a very cool insider’s view of the final moments horses, trainers, jockeys, and owners have to strategize, and it’s a must-see part of a day at Oaklawn.

6. Grab a tip sheet from the vendors.

One of the coolest things about Oaklawn (to me, at least) are the myriad tip sheets on offer at the track to help people pick a winner. They’re a great tradition at this track, and tip sheets can be a huge help if you’re new to betting or don’t feel like doing too much heavy lifting to find a winning horse.

7. Hit the windows.

OK, don’t actually physically hit any windows. Broken glass and hands are a famously bad combination. What I mean is, place a bet or two! Even if it’s just $2, it can be really fun to root home a horse you have some money on, and who knows? You may walk out with heavy pockets.

8. Watch a race from the apron.

OK, I fully realize that “the apron” sounds weird in this context, but the apron is just the area next to the home stretch where fans can watch the racing action. It’s a must for at least one race: There’s nothing else in the world like being surrounded by thousands of other fans all cheering at the top of their lungs for their horse to come out the winner.

9. Then head to the infield to see one of the most beautiful venues in racing.

The Oaklawn infield is famous for its beauty: Dotted with dogwoods and magnolias, it’s an oasis in the middle of the racetrack. And on Arkansas Derby day, the infield is probably the most fun place to be. Not only is there a beer garden and food trucks, but also a petting zoo that includes a baby kangaroo. If that’s not enough to make you happy, then I can’t help you.

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