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story.lead_photo.caption Horses sprint from the gate in the first race of 2013 at Oaklawn Park. Robby Albarado won the race aboard Congenial. - Photo by David Harten

— Though the scene may seem chaotic on opening day at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, the preparation begins well before the crowds arrive.

Oaklawn Park opens for 2013 season

Patrons, jockeys and officials flocked to Oaklawn Park on Friday for the first day of the 2013 season. While fans saw is as the beginning of the racing year in Hot Springs, officials breathed a sigh of relief as months of preparation was put into action. (By David Harten)
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David Longinotti, assistant general manager for Oaklawn, said the first order of business is to make sure the horses are scheduled to race.

"We open the stable area in mid-November," Longinotti said. "Gate training starts a month out, with the workouts ... So it's long, involved process."

Belinda Castleberry, food and beverage director for Oaklawn, also had the food and catering staff working months in advance to prepare for not just opening day but the entire opening weekend. That includes Saturday's special of 50-cent corned beef sandwiches and 10-cent soft drinks. Castleberry said her staff cooks had stocked 5 1/2 tons of corned beef for the weekend.

"Prep-wise though, it's a team effort," Castleberry said. "It takes a lot to get kitchens that have been closed down for nine months back up for the live meet."

On Friday, the crowd was sparse at first but more filed in as race time neared.

Fans came from around the region and state for the races, including Nicholas Soho, a native New Yorker who has lived the last 30 years in Slidell, La.

Oaklawn officials said they see the actual opening day as a relief given all the prep that has gone into it.

The winner of the day's first race was jockey Robby Albarado aboard Congenial.

"Oaklawn is a special place," Albarado said after his victory.

Read more about the day's races in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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