Feb. 5, 2011
A song that is normally sung in December, "Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful", fits in nicely in this first weekend of February at Oaklawn. Countless disappointed officials, trainer, jockeys and fans lost four fun days of racing at Oaklawn, equaling the record of lost racing days in a season at the Hot Springs track.
How much of an edge does it give to those horses in Florida and California who haven't missed training? No one can know. Will the horses here be fresher for having the rest time, even though it is in cold and snowy conditions? Again, only time will tell.
The last time Oaklawn lost six days of racing to weather was in 2003. The Arkansas Derby winner was longshot Sir Cherokee, ridden by Terry Thompson and trained by Mike Tomlinson. The colt was injured just prior to the Kentucky Derby and it became the first Kentucky Derby in years not to have an Oaklawn representative in the starting gate. Let's hope that bit of trivia isn't repeated.
The division most impacted by the loss of days is the older horses running long. When opening day, January 14, was scrapped, the featured Fifth Season Stakes was moved to Sunday, January 16. Win Willy won an exciting event, catching Stachys in the final strides. It was a dramatic race and worked out well for all the horses involved.
Now, on Saturday, we have lost the Essex Handicap, another distance test for older horses. It was to be a virtual re-run of the Fifth Season, with pacesetter Kate's Main Man, runner-up, Stachys, and winner, Win Willy, all in the lineup. There were some weight switches and a few other new shooters to make it interesting.
That group will now have to wait until next weekend to keep their date with each other. Fortunately Racing Secretary Pat Pope put plenty of distance (pardon the play on words) between those route races for older horses and the next one, the Razorback Handicap, isn't on the schedule until Saturday, March 12. A repeat of the weather we have experienced thus far would be a longer price than either Rockamundo or Sir Cherokee were when they won Arkansas Derbies at odds exceeding 100-1.
It's also true that the ultimate goal for the older horses this year at Oaklawn, the Oaklawn Handicap, carries a purse reduced to $350,000 this year, largely as a result of the failure of a higher purse making any change in the plans of those with top Grade I horses heading off to Dubai for the enormous purses at the flashy Meydan Course in Dubai.
Instead the Win Willys and even defending champion Duke of Mischief, just might find more suitable competition at Oaklawn during this year's Racing Festival of the South.
Racing fans here have almost accepted the fact that the all-star weekend at Oaklawn will be April 15-16 when the Apple Blossom Handicap and Arkansas Derby are contested. While such big names as Blind Luck, Havre de Grace and Switch are being thrown around for the Apple Blossom, the field for the Arkansas Derby is likely to be a large one and have a number of Triple Crown prospects needing sufficient money earned to gain a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby.
The $500,000 purse for the Apple Blossom and the $1 million for the Arkansas Derby are plenty to lure leaders in those two divisions and there's sure a lot better chance that the weather will have improved by that point.
Weather forecasters are painting a gloomy look for this coming Thursday and Friday in Hot Springs. Oaklawn could possibly set a record for racing days lost to weather. Announcements have already been made that all racing days will include ten races minimum. This is a record of which no track can be proud. We need to make a deal with that devilish Mother Nature.