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Monday, September 01, 2014, 3:07 a.m.
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New features, wagering app set for new Oaklawn season

By Jennifer Nixon

This article was published January 9, 2014 at 2:49 a.m.

As Arkansans continue to recover from the end-of the-year holiday crush, the thunder of hooves grows louder in Hot Springs. Oaklawn Park’s 2014 live racing season begins with a bang Friday and continues through April 12 with three months of racing, betting and socializing.

“It’s a social event,” media relations manager Jennifer Hoyt says. “People make it an annual trip.”

They also make it a family event.

“We’ve done a lot in the last several years to make things more family friendly,” she explains, pointing to the kids zone that opens in the infield (with a clear view of the track) when the weather gets warmer in March.

Returning patrons will find a few changes for the 2014 season, like the newly opened 1/16th Pole Bar, which will specialize in regional craft beers such as Goose Island and Stella.

The food and beverage expansion is matched by a growing wagering menu with early and late pick fours, rolling pick threes and superfectas on every race.

And starting this year, people don’t actually have to be present at the track to place a bet. The new Oaklawn Anywhere app for cell phones, tablets and laptops was launched in December to replace the old My Oaklawn app. Users must be Arkansas residents and meet age requirements.

Arkansas weather is notoriously fickle, particularly in winter and spring, making outdoor events like Oaklawn particularly vulnerable. For the most part, though, their policy is like the U.S. Postal Service.

“We will race in the cold. We will race in the rain.”

They do not send horses out if there’s thunder and lightning. In short, if the track is too dangerous for the horses or if the roads are too dangerous for the patrons to get there, the race card will be canceled.

Those race cards this year will feature several new barns, new riders and new trainers, including top Canadian trainer Mark Casse.

For the horse enthusiast who wants to do more than just sit and watch them run around the track, the Dawn at Oaklawn program is now in its third year. From 7:30-9:30 a.m. every Saturday from Feb. 15 through the end of the season, the track is open for patrons to watch the horses train and to take barn tours. Each Saturday, a trainer, jockey or veterinarian gives a special presentation.

This “behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at the race track” is free to the public and includes coffee and pastries.

Hoyt claims, “We have some of the most enthusiastic fans in horse racing.”

Oaklawn typically packs in the crowds. With admission for $2, $2 for a program, $4.50 for a reserved seat, it’s still far cheaper than a day at the ballpark or even a two-hour movie at the local multiplex.

So, unless you go overboard on the betting, “It’s a day of entertainment that’s not going to break the bank.”

Oaklawn is open at 11 a.m. Thursday-Sunday with first post at 1:30 p.m. weekdays and Sundays, 1 p.m. Saturdays. It’s also open Jan. 20 and Feb. 17 with first post at 1 p.m. Call (800) 625-5296 or visit oaklawn.com.

Weekend, Pages 32 on 01/09/2014

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