Oaklawn Park near Hot Springs, Arkansas, kicks off its 114th live racing season on Friday with a nine-race card and a special post time of 12:30 p.m. CT. This year, the meet will be contested over 57 days and offers more than $30 million in purses and 31 stakes races, all conducted on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule through the final two weeks of the season, April 4 through the 14th.
Additionally, Oaklawn will offer live racing this Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Monday, Feb. 19, President’s Day. Both Monday cards will feature important Kentucky Derby preps in the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes (GIII), respectively.
The most notable runner to make his way through Arkansas’ Derby Trail was American Pharoah, who anyone with even a casual interest in horse racing knows became the 12th Triple Crown winner in 2015 by sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, and was also crowned Horse of the Year. The Bob Baffert-trained colt used the Arkansas route to the Triple Crown and won the Rebel Stakes (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI) before attaining racing immortality.
This year, the Rebel will be held on March 17 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby on closing day, April 15. The $900,000 Rebel offers 50 points to the winner to make the gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May and the Arkansas Derby winner collects 100, guaranteeing a spot. Last year, champion Classic Empire capped off a rough winter and spring to win Oaklawn’s signature Derby prep before finishing fourth under the Twin Spires.
And let’s not forget the fillies looking for May lilies and the steady stream of ladies who have used Oaklawn Park on their way to the Kentucky Oaks. The March 10 Honeybee Stakes (GIII) serves as a solid prep for the April 13 Fantasy Stakes (GII), with both showcasing the best sophomore fillies to come out of the Southeast. Some of the more prominent names to have come out of the 3-year-old filly prep races in Arkansas include Rachel Alexandra, Blind Luck, Eight Belles, Round Pond, Excellent Meeting, Escena, Lite Light and Very Subtle.
Other important races on the 2018 Oaklawn Park calendar include the Apple Blossom Handicap (GI) on Friday, April 13 and the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) on Saturday, April 14.
This season, all straight wagers will be offered with a 17-percent takeout rate and all exotics are subject to a 21-percent takeout. In addition to the standard win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta, pick three, pick four, pick five and early and late daily doubles, for the second straight year, Oaklawn will be offering the Show Bet Bonus, which makes the easiest wager in racing more profitable and fun for on-track guests only. With this bet, the payoff on show wagers made at Oaklawn will be higher than the payoff on the same show wager made off-track or through ADW services.
Gates open every race day at 11 a.m., except Arkansas Derby Day when they open at 10:30 a.m.
For more information, visit www.oaklawn.com or call 501-623-4411.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.