Excitement Builds for Start of 2020 Racing Season at Oaklawn

Events / Travel
Fans enjoy a picture-perfect day in Hot Springs at the 2019 Rebel Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

 “A New Level of Racing” is Oaklawn Park’s theme for the 2020 meet, and the track opens Friday amid ample evidence of its dedication to reaching new heights.

The largest change, literally, is under construction on the clubhouse turn: a $100-million expansion that includes a seven-story, 200-room hotel, event center, spa, and restaurants. Oaklawn broke ground on the complex at the conclusion of the 2019 season, and it is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.

One facet of the project, the 28,000-square-feet casino addition, will open the day before live racing resumes. Changes to the facility started in April, when Oaklawn debuted live blackjack, craps, and roulette tables. They continued in July, when Arkansas became the ninth state to offer sports betting.

The casino contributed to the purses increasing for the 12th consecutive season, and the 57-day meet will average above $600,000 a card. Several stakes races are richer, including the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicaps, which join the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby as $1 million races. The purse of the Southwest Stakes, the first leg of the Arkansas Triple Crown, increased from $500,000 to $750,000.

The purses are a factor in drawing new faces to Oaklawn, including jockeys Joe Talamo and Martin Garcia and trainers Jerry Hollendorfer, John Sadler, and Shug McGaughey.

During the offseason, the entire track cushion was removed, screened, mixed with new materials and applied back to the track an inch at a time. Oaklawn also has a new track kitchen and stable gate.

For the second year, Oaklawn’s live meet will extend past Arkansas Derby day and conclude on Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve day, May 2.

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