The start of the new year means building excitement in Hot Springs, where horses, trainers, owners, jockeys and fans prepare to converge on Oaklawn for the start of racing season.
Visitors to Oaklawn will notice a difference right off the bat. According to media relations manager Jennifer Hoyt, the biggest change is a new Grandstand entrance with "a parklike setting and life-size bronze statue of 2015 Arkansas Derby and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah."
Opening day post time: 12:30 p.m. Friday
Post times: 1:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday and Sunday, 1 p.m. Saturday
General admission: Free
Reserved seating: $2.50 weekdays, $4.50 weekends
The track is also continuing the Show Bet Bonus, which was added in 2017 to encourage novices by increasing the payout for on-track show bets -- "the easiest wager in racing." Hoyt says it was very popular with visitors last year.
Meanwhile, the on-site track kitchen, serving up "country cooking" with recipes from manager Jana Ford Digby's family's Ed's Place restaurant, will now be fully accessible to everyone. Visitors may find themselves sitting next to a jockey or trainer while chowing down on biscuits and gravy or meatloaf. Restaurant hours are 5 a.m. until after the last race Thursday-Sunday, 5 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Wednesday.
Of course, this Saturday is the day for the traditional 50-cent corned beef sandwich deal and there will be an Oaklawn cap giveaway on Monday.
But Hot Springs doesn't stop at the race track. And just because it's too cold for swimming and water skiing on the lake doesn't mean Hot Springs is a dead zone.
"This time of year, Oaklawn is the big draw, for sure," says Steve Arrison, CEO of the Hot Springs Advertising & Promotion Commission. "But, gosh, there's so much going on."
For one thing, the beer business is booming, according to Arrison: "If you like to drink beer, there's a lot of places for craft beer and unique beer."
New additions include SQZBX (pronounced "squeeze box") Brewery & Pizza Joint and two new Bubba Brews locations. And more breweries and tasting rooms are expected soon.
There are new bites, too, with new restaurants like Bones Chophouse having opened in the past year, but Arrison also points to old favorites, like Stubby's BBQ, just down the road from Oaklawn and operating since 1952, McClard's and Deluca's Pizzeria Napoletana.
The horses aren't the only ones getting the exercise. March will bring sports of a different kind with the state basketball championships, March 8-10.
Then, March 23-24, there's Hot Springs Baseball Weekend. Three generations of Babe Ruth's family will be on hand to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ruth's Hot Springs homerun. They'll also welcome Hall of Famer and former Chicago Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Al Hrabosky.
Entertainment-wise, the historic Malco Theater downtown is open again after a $1 million renovation, hosting performances by illusionist Maxwell Blade and visiting acts. And there's always music. Legoria's Jazz Club is one of the newest additions to the downtown music scene.
Things get decidedly wacky at one of Hot Springs' most recognizable events: the First Ever 15th Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade. The tiny parade does things up in a big way on March 17 and this year's parade will march on with starter Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite and grand marshal Joey Fatone of *NSYNC. Grand Funk Railroad will perform a free concert the night before and Morris Day and the Time will wrap up the post-parade festivities.
St. Patrick's Day is on a Saturday this year and the parade will coincide with one of the biggest racing days of the year: the Rebel Stakes, making for a big day of revelry for everyone.
"There's so much to see and do here," Arrison says.
For more information, visit hotsprings.org.
Weekend on 01/11/2018
Print Headline: Horses, home brews on tap for Spa City winter