Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hello Oaklawn, Nice to Meet You

--by Christina Bossinakis

So, by the grace of God, I made it to Hot Springs last night, or should I say, more appropriately, morning. Following a delay from Newark (that’s a shocker, I know) added onto an already late flight, I found myself making the journey from Little Rock to Hot Springs shortly before midnight (Central time). For those of you who have never had the opportunity to visit Arkansas, be warned, the drive from Little Rock to Hot Springs (they swear it’s an hour but it’s not!) is a treacherous one. Negotiating the abysmally dark roads that never seem to run straight in the middle of the night is a very bad idea. Trust me.

After catching my first glimpse of daylight, Arkansas style, I made my initial foray to Oaklawn Park. I must admit, I’ve been to my fair share of Thoroughbred racetracks in my lifetime, however, I will go on record to say that after only one day at the Oaklawn Park, the Hot Springs oval would certainly rank among my favorites in this country. The attention to customer service here is really something to be applauded, and many tracks around the country would be well served to emulate their attention and dedication to accommodating the patron.

CBoss Photo
  I had the opportunity to speak to Oaklawn’s General Manager Eric Jackson and David Longinotti, assistant general manager/racing today, and they couldn't have been more gracious and helpful. In fact, even before my arrival here, Jen Hoyt from Media relations was wonderfully helpful in setting me up with all the necessities of the press, and was equally helpful following my arrival. Also instrumental in getting me orientated during my first visit to Oaklawn was Bruce Emery in the press box. A real superstar at his job and a genuine gentleman.

As circumstances would have it, I was extremely fortunate to get my first glimpse of Oaklawn racing after officials decided to add the Wednesday card to the schedule in an attempt to make up for the eight days lost to bad weather earlier in the season. Locals seemed largely unimpressed by the turnout, however, my perception was that it was a really solid crowd for a mid-week card. But maybe that’s because I’m accustomed to the often anemic crowds at New York-area tracks. One thing I found very interesting was that, while chatting with a few of the Oaklawn patrons, I learned a few of them had traveled a very long way (in one case, the gentleman drove all the way from Texas), to enjoy a day at the races. I was mildly surprised to learn that Oaklawn is to the South what Saratoga is to the East and Del Mar to the West. I guess you can only really appreciate that fact when you make it to Arkansas for a visit.

My first experience at Oaklawn was capped off exactly as I would have scripted it--with D. Wayne Lukas winning the final two races on the card, including the Red Bud S. with Westrock’s Tidal Pool. Currently, he leads the meet standings by three wins, with only a few days left to go. I have faith in the King.

Tidal Pool
Coady Photography
It appears that the California contingent arrived at Oaklawn Tuesday and among them was The Factor, favorite for Saturday’s GI Arkansas Derby. I plan to head out to the back side Thursday morning and get my first look at some of the hopefuls for this weekend’s features. Also, as luck would have it, the racing Gods seem to have smiled upon me (not to mention the good folks at Oaklawn), because the forecast for the Racing Festival of the South couldn’t be better if it had been custom ordered for the final hoorah. The good word is that most of the connections of the top horses are slated to make it to Arkansas for the Derby and Apple Blossom, so the pieces seem to be falling in place for a great weekend of racing. Stay tuned..

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