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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Oaklawn to add December racing dates

by Wally Hall | June 7, 2021 at 12:54 p.m.

In what will prove to be another innovative move by Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, it is changing its racing dates to primarily three-day weekends starting Dec. 3 of this year.

The Arkansas Racing Commission will have to approve the change, but that isn’t expected to be a problem since it will offer the horsemen races during December and early January, when horses have been limited to training.

Oaklawn has made more than $100 million in its facilities in the last two years, including the addition of a luxury hotel.

A large part of the horses who run at Oaklawn come from Churchill Downs, which closes around Thanksgiving each year.

In addition to earlier racing, this allows Oaklawn to stay dark on Thursdays when the crowds generally are small enough to make you wonder if the track made enough on those days to pay the electric bill and meet payroll.

The change will not affect Christmas or Easter, when Oaklawn will be closed and the traditional Monday racing on President’s Day remains on the schedule.

Sunday’s Arkansas-Democrat Gazette had a story that the change was going to be made and Monday morning Oaklawn put out a press release in which track President Louis Cella said: “The additional days will provide a huge economic impact for horsemen, Arkansas Thoroughbred breeders and tourism in Central Arkansas.”

Oaklawn has been on the rise nationally in the last few years, with several of its horses going on to win Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races. Last Saturday, Essential Quality, who won Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes during the last meet, won the Belmont Stakes.

Purses, enhanced first through Instant Racing and later the casino, have attracted horses from all over the country. Cella estimated purses for the upcoming meet will be between $45 and $50 million, which is the most in the country during that time of year.

Oaklawn will also offer races for 2-year-olds and plans are being made to have a stakes race for them.

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said in the news release: “I like it. The more Oaklawn the better.’

While most of the world of thoroughbred racing struggles, Oaklawn continues to forge new trails to success.

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