The Magic of Oaklawn

Oaklawn Park is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, nestled in the Quachita Mountains. I recently spent the weekend there and had a great one-on-one interview with Terry Wallace. (Yes, I did cash some good tickets, too.) Terry has been there since 1975 and he calls all the live races in smart fashion. He is also the Director of Media Relations which keeps him incredibly busy.

Terry was updating the track website when we took some time to chat. One question from me was: "How do you explain the terrific success that Oaklawn enjoys, while so many other tracks are in trouble or flat-out failing?" There are several reasons, including: The track is family owned and operated since 1904. They do have gaming facilities which they keep physically separate from the racing. The staff at Oaklawn is fully committed to customer satisfaction, something we don't see in many racetracks today. The entire grounds are kept clean and safe, all of the time. Terry and Oaklawn are involved with the community year round, another nice addition that many tracks ignore. Oaklawn maintains full fields for most races, partly by not having a turf course (turf runners take barn space and just don't run that often). One of the things I love about Oaklawn is just that, and a dirt course (none of the artificial stuff here). There is much more detail about Oaklawn and twelve other tracks in my Lucky 13 book.

Why do I call it magic? Consider that Hot Springs posted population is 35,000, though Terry estimates 40,000; and Oaklawn has had crowds upwards of 72,000. Wow! They can and do open up the infield when a large crowd is indicated and the weather is good. I asked Terry about his style of handicapping, and he uses most of the tools that a lot of us do, but watches trainer and jockey patterns closely. I put Terry on the spot by asking him about his favorite race, and he has several. He is fond of champion Azeri, who won the Apple Blossom Handicap 3 years in a row, from 2002 to 2004. The Apple Blossom, to be run on Friday April 9, was to be a huge deal this year, as Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta were to square off. The latest report is that Zenyatta is coming and Rachel is not, as she lost her race last weekend. The Apple Blossom is part of the Racing Festival that finishes out the season for Oaklawn. Something tells me that there will still be big crowds for the Festival. Go there if you can, or watch and wager from a simulcast or ADW. I will!

Contributed by Bobby Zen

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