Can Oaklawn Out 'Smart' 2004 season? 

READY TO RUN: Oaklawn opens.
  • READY TO RUN: Oaklawn opens.
Thoroughbreds take to the track beginning Friday, Jan. 21. Smarty Jones, the 3-year-old colt who excited the nation’s horse-racing fans before falling short of the Triple Crown, made Oaklawn Park’s 2004 centennial season one that won’t soon be forgotten. But is there a 3-year-old out there now that can make Oaklawn’s 2005 season as exciting as last year’s? Smarty Jones won the Southwest Handicap, the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby before going on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and finish second in the Belmont Stakes, then retired to the pasture to sire future Smarties. Along the way, Smarty Jones’ owners won $5 million from Oaklawn owner Charles Cella as part of the bonus for winning the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas and Kentucky derbies. Oaklawn, which has three of the nation’s top 3-year-olds in the Hot Springs stables now, gets its 55-day racing season underway Friday, Jan. 21, and the meet continues through April 16 with the running of the $1 million Arkansas Derby. Already stabled at Oaklawn are Rockport Harbor, Afleet Alex and Greater Good, considered to be the top three contenders for this year’s Triple Crown. Projections of a daily $250,000 purse have drawn many of the top horses and owners for 2005. This year’s stakes schedule will total a track record $4.1 million. Oaklawn’s reputation was further boosted recently when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced that its Eclipse Award of Merit would go to the track and the Cellas, who have owned the facility since 1904, in recognition of lifetime achievements in thoroughbred racing. They’ll be honored Monday, Jan. 24, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Besides the races, which begin at 1 p.m. Friday through Sunday, the track offers Instant Racing, a video wagering machine. A trip to Oaklawn also calls for a corned beef sandwich or a trip to the Oyster Bar or a margarita at the Arkansas Sports Tavern. Quick bites are available at W.T. Grigsby’s or the Pony Express Grill, and there is sit-down fine dining in the Carousel Terrace and the Post Parade Restaurant. To further encourage fans to come out for the opening weekend action, Oaklawn and the local division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association will offer reduced prices on major concession items throughout the weekend. The signature corned beef sandwich will once again be offered for 50 cents and soft drinks will be priced at 10 cents. Last year on opening weekend, the track ran out of corned beef after selling six tons (along with more than 25,000 soft drinks). Admission is $2 at the gate. Gates open at 11 a.m. Beginning Jan. 28, post times will revert to the traditional 1:30 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays. During the live meet, when the track isn’t conducting live racing, it will still be open for Instant Racing and simulcasting from many of the nation’s top tracks. Oaklawn added 50 new Instant Racing machines while expanding the south end of its first floor. For more information, call 1-800-OAKLAWN or visit www.oaklawn.com.

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