Oaklawn has never had races in December before.
That changes Friday as the Hot Springs landmark will have thoroughbred horse racing between now and until the end of racing season on May 8.
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The move puts Oaklawn more in line with its peer tracks around the country, said Jennifer Hoyt who is Director of Racing at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.
“We are opening roughly around the same time as Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park’s Champion Meet. Santa Anita will open Dec. 26.
Those tracks are in, respectively, New Orleans, Florida and southern California and the climate there isn’t like Arkansas’s.
“December has traditionally been a mild month,” Hoyt said. “We are hopeful we won’t get the same severe weather as last year, but there is not much we can do about Mother Nature.”
The track will have races Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with, “no racing Dec. 24-26 and April 17 (Easter),” Hoyt said. The one exception to that schedule, Hoyt said, is Oaklawn, “will race Monday, Feb. 21 for Presidents’ Day.”
Hoyt added that the expansion of the calendar was well received and 17 new trainers were offered stalls and “we expect a full barn area.”
Friday will start with the $150,000 Advent Stakes with the $1 million Rebel on Feb. 26 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby on April 2. The last two are Kentucky Derby qualifiers as are The Smarty Jones on Jan. 1 and the Southwest on Jan. 29.
The move to an earlier start should be a positive one for a battered tourism industry in Arkansas that has been severely curtailed during the ongoing pandemic.
“The extended race meet should be a win-win for Oaklawn and the city of Hot Springs,” Hoyt said. She also noted that the expansion of Oaklawn and the addition of a casino there factored into the decision.
“Obviously, we hope to attract more race fans over a longer period of time to enjoy the hotel, spa and event center.”
For more information and to buy tickets online, click here. The $5 tickets will not be sold as walkups.