Oaklawn Expands Racing Into December

Oaklawn Expands Racing Into December

Oaklawn Park will add December dates to its calendar for the first time in the Hot Springs, Ark., racetrack’s 117-year history and host a 66-day season from Dec. 3 through May 8, 2022, the track announced June 7.

“For many years, horsemen have wanted to race here in December to fill a gap in their racing schedule,” said Oaklawn president Louis Cella. “We have completed our resort expansion, including the opening of our luxury hotel, spa, and event center. Therefore, the timing is right for another expansion—to our live racing season.”

The 2021-22 season will be conducted largely on a Friday-Sunday basis, with some exceptions. There will be no racing Dec. 24 through Dec. 26 during the Christmas holiday and also no racing on Easter Sunday, April 17. Racing will continue to be offered on Presidents Day Feb. 21.

Oaklawn plans to present the new proposed racing schedule to the Arkansas Racing Commission at its next meeting for approval.

“We are looking forward to the new format,” Cella said. “The additional days will provide a huge economic impact for horsemen, Arkansas Thoroughbred breeders, and tourism in Central Arkansas.”

“Oaklawn’s decision to add racing days in December is wonderful news for Hot Springs and Garland County,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs. “The expansion of its casino and its addition of a world-class hotel this year already provided Hot Springs with an exciting new feature in its attractions menu. The additional live racing dates will further cement Oaklawn’s status as a premier economic engine for our city. We all look forward to this great new reason for everyone to visit Hot Springs.”

Purses for the season are projected to be $45 million-$50 million, the highest in America at that time of year, according to Oaklawn, with all allowance races starting at $100,000.

“To be able to offer six-figure allowance races for five consecutive months is a very strong statement,” said Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope. “Between the purses and all of our new amenities, we should be part of every horseman’s annual calendar.”

The extended season and projected purse increases make it necessary for Oaklawn to restructure its stakes program, highlighted, by realigning Oaklawn’s strong 3-year-old prep races.

“We will offer 2-year-old racing in December,” Cella said, “and we anticipate additional exciting changes in our racing program, including an aggressive 2021-2022 stakes schedule. We are working on that now and will announce those changes soon. Suffice it to say that our stakes program will continue to be designed to attract the nation’s best horses and best horsemen to Hot Springs.”

The additional dates drew strong support from several trainers.

“I love it,” said Hall of Famer and 11-time Oaklawn leading trainer Steve Asmussen. “The more Oaklawn, the better.”

“I’ve been an advocate for this for years,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. “I think it’s a great addition and will keep our stables competitive. It’s also going to be a popular time. People are already in a festive mood around the holidays, and the weather in December is usually pretty good. I think there is going to be a strong fan base. I’m 100% for it.”

“Oaklawn’s new dates allow us horsemen to participate in the most lucrative purse circuit in America without any interruptions,” said  trainer Ron Moquett. “It’s now a smooth transition between Oaklawn, Churchill, and Saratoga.”

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