Oaklawn cut the ribbon on its 115th season on Friday, Jan. 25. Opening weekend was replete with record crowds, competitive racing, massive corned beef consumption, and ideal weather.
Record opening weekend crowds. The combined attendance for the three-card weekend was over 55,000, which exceeds Hot Spring’s population of 37,000. 20,000 people were present Friday, and 28,000 teemed throughout the apron and the grandstand on Saturday.
“Our fans came out in record numbers for opening weekend and we cannot thank them enough for their continued support of our racing program,” Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said. “Without the fans Oaklawn would not be the gem in the South it is to horse racing.”
Fan support is a hallmark of Oaklawn.
“Thoroughbred racing remains part of our culture in Arkansas,” Rex Nelson, senior editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said. “It is something people get dressed up for. It is an event to go to Oaklawn.”
Top-class racing. On opening day, Oaklawn fans got their first in-person views of Triple Crown hopefuls in the 12th running of the Smarty Jones Stakes, Oaklawn’s first race in its lucrative Kentucky Derby prep series. Gray Attempt, with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons, earned the trophy and the Derby points.
Owned by Dwight Pruett of Texarkana, Ark., Gray Attempt has won three consecutive starts and led all the way in each. His final time in the Smarty Jones was second-fastest in race history.
Trainer Jinks Fires says the horse is pointed toward the Southwest Stakes, Oaklawn’s next race in the series.
Corned beef. Saturday was the 15th annual promotion of 50-cent corned beef sandwiches. Six tons of corned beef came from Kelly Eisenberg, a gourmet deli products company in Chicago. Once cooked, the approximately 12,000 pounds of meat turned in to roughly 25,000 sandwiches. As usual, the sandwiches sold out.
Ideal weather. Racegoers enjoyed a weekend full of blue skies, sunny days, and temperatures in the 50s. It was a preview of the spring Arkansas weather Oaklawn hopes to showcase with the new meet schedule that for the first time will run through Kentucky Derby day on Saturday, May 4.
Race fans have 54 more days to catch the action at Oaklawn Park. Oaklawn races Thursdays through Sundays.