Oaklawn Park is one of North America’s premier thoroughbred racetracks and is located in Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. It is described as the state’s most popular entertainment destination, and it also boasts a state-of-the-art casino which is extremely popular with visitors to the region.
Although Oaklawn’s racing season is fairly short, it remains a hugely popular track for horsemen in the country, and it was recently voted the fifth-best thoroughbred track by the Horseplayers Association of North America.
There are a number of key races taking place at the racetrack including the $1million Arkansas Derby. It also stages the Racing Festival of the South which brings the curtain down on April’s four-day meet. This thoroughbred extravaganza features numerous stakes events, including four on the final day.
Many big names have previously raced at the track, including Zenyatta, Curlin, and American Pharoah; the latter won twice here en-route to becoming the American Horse of the Year.
Oaklawn Park has a one-mile dirt track which features a chute. The track also has two finishing poles, with races held over the mile, starting and finishing at the 1/16th pole. The track is set to undergo renovations in 2019 costing $1million. The upgrade will feature a larger on-site car park, multi-purpose event center, and a high-rise hotel.
There are currently no plans to build a turf course at the track.
Live racing typically takes place between mid-January and late-April. The final day of action at the track tends to coincide with the Kentucky Derby. However, racing continued until early-May for the first time in 2019. This was largely due to predicted weather conditions in the area.
Despite the track having a lower profile than some of its peers, Oaklawn Park regularly attracts high-quality fields, and attendance at the track are suitably impressive.
Oaklawn Park History
More than a century ago, there were several racetracks located in Arkansas, but in 2019, Oaklawn Park is the sole survivor. Previous tracks in the area include Sportsman’s Park, Essex Park, and Hot Springs.
Oaklawn Park opened in February 1905, and a holiday was declared in the area to mark the first race meet. More than 3,000 locals attended the opening day which featured just six races.
The track hasn’t raced continuously; however, it closed in 1907 due to the political problems in the state but reopened nine years later. The track continued to race, although the action was intermittent amidst the continued political climate.
A vote was passed in 1929 to allow horse racing and pari-mutuel racing in the region, and this prompted an upturn in Oaklawn Park’s fortunes.
In 1935, Oaklawn Park upped its purse money to match the majority of the tracks in North America. Just twelve months later, the first Arkansas Derby was held at Oaklawn, complete with a purse of $5,000. This had doubled by 1943.
A 30-day late Autumn-Winter meet was held at the end of World War II, and this proved hugely profitable for the track. Attendances and purse money continued to climb throughout the remainder of the 1940s and early 1950s, with the track becoming one of the most popular destinations for horse racing fans in North America. Many Kentucky Derby hopefuls visited the track throughout the early-1960s.
In 1972, the Arkansas Derby became a $100,000 contest, and just twelve months later, the first running of the Fantasy Stakes took place. The Racing Festival of the South began in 1974.
With an unprecedented demand for tickets, renovations took place in 1975. A general admissions area, five-level glass enclosure, and private club were added to the racetrack.
In 1983, the track recorded a record attendance of 1, 303, 223 spectators across the 56-day season. Meanwhile, the prize money for the Arkansas Derby continued to climb, reaching $500,000.
In 1990, the track reinstated Sunday racing, and this helped overcome a barren couple of years in Arkansas.
More recently, American Pharoah won both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby en-route to securing the triple crown. Three years later, a life-sized bronze sculpture of horse and jockey was erected close to the grandstand.
Oaklawn Park Known Track Bias
With just a single surface to focus on, Oaklawn Park is relatively appealing to handicappers. It is generally regarded as a fair track, although there are particular nuances to watch out for.
Mile races use the auxiliary finish line, which allows a longer run up to the first turn. This lessens the bias towards the inside posts. Since the second finishing line was introduced, it has resulted in greater success for horses drawn out wide. With big fields commonplace at Oaklawn Park, it allows horseplayers to focus on those horses drawn 8-12.
The track layout leaves a relatively short run-in to the finishing post (and even shorter for races staged over the mile), and this favors front-runners and those who stay close to the pace. Horses who typically races in the front two or three tend to fare well here.
Winning Post Positions
In 2018, there was a decent spread of winners across the various post-positions.
There were 311 sprint races held across the course of the year, with stall nine proving the most profitable. 13% of winners came from this particular stall, with 3 and 7 also proving fairly successful (12%)
There were just 47 races in which stall 12 was occupied, yielding a return of 10.64%. Stall 10 was the weakest, with just 6.58% of winners coming from this post.
There were fewer races held over the longer trip, with just 196 route races on the calendar. Stall 2 was the most profitable post position for handicappers, producing almost 16% of winners. Post positions 1-4 all yielded at least 12% of winners, proving that the inside draw is not a disadvantage over the longer distance.
Smaller fields were commonplace over the longer trips, with just 16 runners being given the outside post. Only one of these 16 runners were victorious.
Top Trainers at Oaklawn Park
With significant prize purses available at Oaklawn Park during the course of the year, the track attracts some of the top horsemen in North America. It’s always advised to watch out for some of the household names visiting the track.
There a number of names to keep an eye at future meets:
Stats (2019 winter/spring meet)
- Steven Asmussen (20% Strike Rate)
- Brad Cox (21% Strike Rate)
- Larry Jones (21% Strike Rate)
- Robertino Diodoro (24% Strike Rate)
- Karl Broberg (24% Strike Rate)
- Norman McKnight (26% Strike Rate)
- Richard Mandella (67% Strike Rate)
Top Jockeys at Oaklawn Park
A horse’s performance and finishing position can be significantly affected by the quality of jockey on board, and some of the top riders at the track will be able to make the difference between winning and losing a race at Oaklawn Park.
There are a number of talented jockeys who regularly compete in Arkansas:
Stats (2019 winter/spring meet)
- Orlando Mojica (16% Strike Rate)
- Ramon Vasquez (16% Strike Rate)
- Jose Ortiz (17% Strike Rate)
- Ricardo Santana Jr (22% Strike Rate)
- David Cohen (24% Strike Rate)
- Mike E Smith (42% Strike Rate)
Oaklawn Park Racing Season and Key Races
Oaklawn Park’s racing season begins at the start of January, typically the second week of the month. However, in 2019, it began slightly later.
Racing continues through to the beginning of May, with the final day of the season often coinciding with the Kentucky Derby. The final day of the 2019 season was May 4th.
There are a number of high-quality stakes races taking place across the four months, with many of the key events taking place throughout April and May. The Arkansas Derby takes place in mid-April.
Grade I Races:
Arkansas Derby, Apple Blossom Handicap
Grade II Races:
Azeri Stakes, Oaklawn Handicap, Rebel Stakes
Grade III Races:
Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, Fifth Season Stakes, Honeybee Stakes, Razorback Handicap, Southwest Stakes, Fantasy Stakes
Other Key Races:
Hot Springs Stakes, Smarty Jones Stakes, Bachelor Stakes
Oaklawn Racetrack Address
2705 Central Ave.
Hot Springs, AR 71901