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April 12, 2011

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Here we are in the middle of the Racing Festival of the South.  Like most of us older folks, our bodies are older than our minds.  Thus it's hard for me to think this is my 37th Racing Festival of the South without looking at the Media Guide list of races over those years.

A number of you have written lately with your memories and I appreciate each one.  It's fun to be in Hot Springs and exchange stories about what's happened and impacted fans over nearly four decades here.  I meet a lot of folks who've never heard another voice on the Oaklawn PA system during that time.  They are shocked to hear Rolly Hoyt's calls on the seventh race each Friday as I get to go out among the fans and enjoy what we've taken to calling the "Seventh Race Stretch".  But the truth is that it has been fun.

There is no retirement imminent for me.  I've had to call the races with a broken wrist this year and it shocks some of the fans to see me call the races and walk around with a cast on my hand.  But truthfully that has been no problem and I am just like so many of you--hating to see this come to an end.  Oaklawn racing is such a wonderful experience.  But for all of us who are older, everything moves faster.  There is really an acceleration of life as you are on the downhill side.

Although I am not planning a retirement, I will be going on vacation to England and France for, among other things, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in late September and early October.  I've mentioned it before.  People can join up with our group, if they choose.  It's not cheap, but it's the trip of a lifetime.  If you're interested, you still have time to contact me at Oaklawn to join the group.

In the meantime, today we will welcome the big jet which carries superstar horses to Hot Springs for this weekend's races.  Californians like Switch, Miss Match and The Factor are expected to arrive today and they will be welcomed with beautiful weather and a chance to certify their pursuits of Eclipse Awards.  That's what the Racing Festival has brought to Oaklawn over these years.  For us, out here in the middle of the country, it's All-Star week.

There have been a number of inquiries about the stakes calendar for the future and espcially the placing of the Apple Blossom Handicap.  Last year the race was moved to coincide with the Arkansas Derby.  There was an eagerness and anticipation about the possible matchup with Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.  Although that never happened, Zenyatta's appearance here will long be remembered as one of the greatest days in Oaklawn history.

This year's Apple Blossom will not carry the same weight as last year's, although, from a quality and competitive standpoint, it figures to be better.  Certainly the brilliant local filly, Havre de Grace, will get her chance to go to the head of the class by taking on the California pair of Switch and Miss Match.  Too bad that Blind Luck hasn't been at her best this year.  Adding her to the field would have been wonderful.  But that's apparently not going to happen.

Saturday's Derby, with The Factor likely to become the Kentucky Derby favorite with a win, will grab the attention of the nation.  Too bad that it's not on a major national television network, but that's something that needs to be addressed by the industry as a whole.  It's not the only race worthy of national tv.  Outside of the racing channels carrying the race, the only place we feel certain to show the race is Fox TV, since The Factor's name is so closely associated with programming on that network.  It won't be on live, but it's likely to be on in its entirety if The Factor wins.  His problems come from a gateful of horses which have been training well coming into the race.  In particular, there is Sway Away, who lost a tooth in the starting gate, compromising his chances in the Rebel; Brethren, a Todd Pletcher trainee who is trying to carry the Pletcher flag with distinction following dismal recent performances by stablemates Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty; and the locally-based pair of Archarcharch and Caleb's Posse, who have been around all season and pose the possibility to upsetting any bandwagon.  Of course those who have been here a long time know that the Arkansas Derby has been won by 100-1 shots like Rockamundo and Sir Cherokee.  So anything can happen when livestock is concerned.  That's why they put them in the gate and make them earn that $1 million pot.

This is, as the expression goes, "where the real running begins."  And for us at Oaklawn, this is where real live running will end for this year.  We'll excitedly watch our stars go on and shine via simulcast, starting next week.  But our hearts will pine for next year and the return of the live sport.

I intend to continue this blog through those times and I hope you'll stay around the Oaklawn website.  We don't go away.  We just change the way we do things for a while.  Pardon me while I get ready for the end of this go-round.  Here they come into the Stretch!!!                   

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