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Oaklawn shuffling after loss of 8 days

February 17, 2021 at 2:48 a.m.
Adolfo Sanchez tends to a horse at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs last week. Frigid temperatures, snow and ice forced the postponement of races at Oaklawn for the second consecutive week. Racing is scheduled to resume Feb 25. (The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown)

Record cold and accumulations of snow and ice have led to the postponement of a second consecutive week of racing at Oaklawn. Track officials announced Monday that racing has been suspended through Sunday.

The next race day at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort is scheduled for Feb. 25.

"These are new circumstances, and we're just rolling with it and dealing with it as they come," Oaklawn President Louis Cella said.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Oaklawn did not miss a scheduled day of racing last season. Eight racing days have been postponed this season, all since Feb. 11.

Five stakes races have been postponed, including the Razorback Handicap, Southwest Stakes, Bayakoa Stakes, Dixie Belle Stakes and Downthedustyroad Stakes.

If racing resumes Feb. 25, that weekend of racing is looking at having six stakes races take place.

The Razorback, Spring Fever Stakes and Southwest now are scheduled for Feb. 27, and the Downthedustyroad, Dixie Bell and Bayakoa are set for Feb. 28.

"This weekend was going to be a spectacular weekend of racing," Cella said. "Well, next weekend is really going to be spectacular. We're going to be running an awful lot of really good stakes, and a lot of really good preps.

"Just eyeballing it, that's ... close to $2 million in stakes races alone in the last weekend of February, so that's pretty strong."

The six stakes will total $1,920,000.

Cella said Oaklawn remains committed to a season's worth of races until the final day of the season, May 1, despite losing eight days so far.

"The only thing we can do is look at the schedule, look at the calendar, between now and the end of the season, and see what, if anything, we can do to add races back," he said. "The bottom line is, we're going to add some days, and we're going to add races to the cards."

Additional days include the Wednesdays of March 31 and April 28.

"After that, we're going to add a few races a week," Cella said. "If we're able to do all that, we'll run pretty darn close to the same number of races we ran last year. We have an obligation to do what we can for our horsemen to get their horses on the track, and more importantly to get on the Derby Trail, to get the Southwest run, and somehow the Rebel, and the Arkansas Derby. Even though on the calendar, it's a little goofy, we're going to do it, and we're just going to see who shows up."

Since Oaklawn has had four races on its schedule that contribute Kentucky Derby qualifying points -- in a system begun in 2013 -- it has scheduled those races between 25 days and four weeks apart. The Southwest, which will distribute 17 points, is now scheduled for Feb. 27, two weeks before the 85-point Rebel Stakes, scheduled for March 13.

Kentucky Derby hopefuls rarely race two weeks apart, and none of their connections are likely to make an exception to that norm for the sake of the opportunity to run an individual entrant in both the Southwest and Rebel, despite their respective purses of $750,000 and $1 million.

"Frankly, it gives a great opportunity for trainers to see where their horses are today," Cella said. "They can go in the Southwest next week for qualifying points, skip the Rebel, and go into the Arkansas Derby, or they can skip the Southwest, get more foundation, and go into the Rebel and then run in the Arkansas Derby.

"Like last year, that was a goofy year with covid. This year, we still have covid, but we're dealing with Mother Nature, but we're resilient. We're Arkansas tough. We're going to run these races one way or the other, but we still have an obligation to make sure it's done in a safe environment."


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