The grand opening of Oaklawn's hotel is nearing, reservations can be made and Saturday was a glorious day for racing.
Charles Cella was looking down and smiling.
The sun was shining, horses were running and about 17,000 (thanks to the infield being open) were on hand for the Arkansas Derby.
With Saturday's weather, it might have been 60,000 if not for covid-19 still restricting attendance at all events.
The previous Derby Day was dark. When the traditional Oaklawn ties were to be ordered in the fall, no one knew whether there would be anyone at the track so the tradition was retired, at least for this year.
While Oaklawn has three more weeks of great racing, Saturday was more like a celebration of champions.
There were four huge races and nine other big ones.
The biggest was the Arkansas Derby, which featured the much anticipated showdown between locally owned Caddo River and shipper Concert Tour out of Bob Baffert's California barn.
In the Rebel Stakes last month, Caddo River led until Concert Tour went by him and won by more than 4 lengths.
The Arkansas Derby started out like a match race, with Caddo River slightly ahead and Concert Tour stalking his every step.
Concert Tour made his move on the turn for home, got in front, but Caddo River dug in. Suddenly, Super Stock -- who had ran third most of the way -- passed them to punch the Kentucky Derby ticket for local trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
Not only did Super Stock, who ran fourth in the Rebel, win 60% of the $1 million purse, he earned 100 Kentucky Derby points to assure him of a spot in the field if it is accepted.
The racing was good all day, but not always kind to the locals.
In the Carousel, Frank Fletcher's Frank's Rockette was the slight favorite. She had won 7 of 12 races and only been off the board once in her life.
Edgeway was the second favorite and for good reason. She won by running her race, stalking and then making a big move at the head of the stretch.
Frank's Rockette was fifth much of the race, unfamiliar territory for a horse that has been so good that she's a big part why the race had only six contenders. Edgeway shipped in from Santa Anita.
Two more races followed the Carousel before the Oaklawn Mile, which was full of shippers looking for a piece of the $400,000 pie.
By My Standards, a versatile 5-year-old, fell in behind all the speed and let them duel it out until the head of the stretch, when jockey Gabriel Saez let out the reins.
By My Standards had his eye on Rushie, and they hit the wire almost simultaneously. The photo finish showed By My Standards, who went over the $2 million earnings mark, was the better horse.
The 11th race featured the Count Fleet showdown between local favorite Whitmore and C Z Rocket, who beat him by a a neck in the Hot Springs Stakes four weeks earlier.
They ran 1-2 again, but it wasn't like the last time when Whitmore took the lead and got chased down by C Z Rocket.
Whitmore did not get a lead, but at the head of the stretch an opening was there. Whitmore accelerated, but by then C Z Rocket was rolling on the outside and pulled away from everyone.
It was his seventh win since being claimed at Oaklawn last year. His only loss was finishing second in the Breeders Cup Sprint to Whitmore in November.
It was another winning day at Oaklawn, if not at the windows then in entertainment.
Hotel arrangements now can be made at oaklawn.com. Book early for next year.