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Oaklawn looking to add December races, host winter season

It's a historic move for the 117-year-old track.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Oaklawn will soon be asking the Arkansas Racing Commission to add December race dates to its calendar and host a 66-day season from Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, through Sunday, May 8, 2022. 

It's a historic move for the 117-year-old track. 

“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.” 

Given approval by the Arkansas Racing Commission, the 66-day season will largely be conducted on a weekend basis, with some exceptions. There will be no racing from Dec. 24 through Dec. 26 and also no racing on Easter Sunday, April 17. 

“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.” 

Prizes for the season are projected to be $45 million - $50 million, the highest in American for that time of year, Oaklawn says. 

“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.”

Oaklawn says the extended season and projected purse increases will make it necessary for them to restructure its stakes program. Oaklawn mentioned realigning their 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.” 

Click here for more information about the extended season at Oaklawn. 

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