Oaklawn Park Racetrack
Located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Oaklawn Park is one of the premier Thoroughbred horse racing meetings during the winter. What makes Oaklawn such a unique meet is that all the races are conducted over the dirt. Oaklawn does not have a grass course. If you have a turf runner, you will have to venture to the Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, and other winter venues.
Oaklawn Park is the destination for many midwest-based horsemen and owners. Some horses from the northeast will venture there, but only if you are a dirt runner.
The purses are outstanding, so the racing attracts high-quality horses, full fields, and very competitive racing. There are a lot of races run for Arkansas Breds because the state does feature many breeding farms.
Oaklawn Park Racing Season
Although Oaklawn’s racing season is relatively short, it remains a hugely popular track for horsemen throughout the US. It was recently voted the fifth-best thoroughbred track by the Horseplayers Association of North America.
Live racing typically takes place between mid-January and late-April. The final day of action at the track coincides with the Kentucky Derby, which is run at Churchill Downs.
Oaklawn Park Stake Races
Racing Festival of the South, run in early April each year, is the highlight of the Oaklawn Park meet. This is a big event for racing fans. Some of the country’s best Thoroughbreds face off at Oaklawn for four days of stakes action, highlighted by the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby for 3-year olds. The Arkansas Derby is a ‘key’ Kentucky Derby prep race.
Oaklawn Park Track History
More than 100 years ago, several racetracks were located in Arkansas, but in 2020, Oaklawn Park is the only remaining track. Previous tracks in the area include Sportsman’s Park, Essex Park, and Hot Springs.
Oaklawn Park opened in February 1905, and a holiday was declared in the town to mark the first race meet. Over 3,000 locals attended the opening day, which featured only six races.
The track has had its fair share of ups and downs. Closing in 1907 due to the political problems in the state and then reopening nine years later. The track continued to race, although the action was intermittent amidst the continued political climate. A vote was passed in 1929 to allow horse racing and pari-mutuel racing in the region, and this revitalized Oaklawn Park’s status and fortunes.
In 1935, Oaklawn Park increased its purse money to match the majority of the tracks in North America. Just twelve months later, the first Arkansas Derby was held at Oaklawn, complete with a sizable purse of $5,000.
A 30-day late Autumn-Winter meet was held at the end of World War II, which proved hugely profitable for the track. Attendances and purse money continued to climb throughout the remainder of the 1940s and early 1950s. The track has become one of the most popular destinations for horse racing fans in North America. Many Kentucky Derby hopefuls visited the track throughout the early-1960s.
In 1972, the Arkansas Derby became a $100,000 contest, and just twelve months later, the first running of the Fantasy Stakes took place. The Racing Festival of the South began in 1974. With an unprecedented demand for tickets, renovations took place in 1975. A general admissions area, five-level glass enclosure, and private club were added to the racetrack.
By 1983, the track recorded a record attendance of over 1.3 million spectators across the 56-day season. Meanwhile, the prize money for the Arkansas Derby continued to climb, reaching $500,000.
In 1990, the track reinstated Sunday racing, which helped overcome a barren couple of years in Arkansas.
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