HOT SPRINGS — In yet another historic move for the 117-year-old track, Oaklawn will now add December race dates to its calendar and host a 66-day season from Dec. 3 – May 8, 2022.
“For many years, horsemen have wanted to race here in December to fill a gap in their racing schedule,” said Oaklawn President Louis A. Cella, who has guided Oaklawn through the most dramatic changes in its history over the past four years. “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 66-day 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 on April 17.
Racing will continue to be offered on Presidents’ Day Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.
Oaklawn plans to present the new proposed racing schedule to the Arkansas Racing Commission at their 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, 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,” Oaklawn Racing Secretary Pat Pope said. “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.”
Trainers are also excited about the additional race dates.
“I love it,” Hall of Famer and 11-time Oaklawn leading trainer Steve Asmussen said. “The more Oaklawn, the better.”
“I’ve been an advocate for this for years,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “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 percent for it.”
“Oaklawn’s new dates allow us horsemen to participate in the most lucrative purse circuit in America without any interruptions,” trainer Ron Moquett said. “It’s now a smooth transition between Oaklawn, Churchill, and Saratoga.”