Feb. 8, 2011
When I first wrote this, I didn't double-check the date of the Southwest. So some of you are now confused. Here is the real truth.
As long as I've been in racing at Oaklawn there are hundreds of amateur meteorologists who come onto the scene in January and February with their takes on the likely weather conditions in the area.
Of course that happens here because Oaklawn runs in the late winter and early spring and because the weather here has a fickle history, causing some real difficulty for horses, trainers, grooms, track officials and handicappers. If there are more hits on weather websites and more tvs turned to the Weather Channel, it's because the deadlines given by the professional meteorologists set the schedules for locals to make their trips to the grocery and convenient stores to stockpile goods for that time when everything seems to be grounded.
It makes you feel for the police, firemen, highway crews, mail carriers and hospital workers who know that they get no days off during weather emergencies. They get to fight the elements so that the rest of us can feel safe. Most of the time the citizens of the town are just fine. It's when the power goes out that the living conditions turn dicey.
That's what's going on here in Hot Springs on Tuesday. Meteorology prognosticators are laying out the emergency scenario for the Hot Springs (and all of Arkansas) area. They try to soften the blow by assuring that a warming trend, which extends as far as their models can show, begins on Friday. This is a big weekend at Oaklawn. But next weekend is even bigger, Presidents Day is Monday, February 21, and also the annual day for the $250,000 Southwest Stakes, the race which most symbolically begins the serious run to the Triple Crown for local three-year-olds. This was the race which started Smarty Jones on his way and, outside of Zenyatta, Smarty Jones is the most popular thoroughbred to race at Oaklawn in the 21st century.
Not only do we enjoy the Southwest Stakes on that Monday, but fans get to participate in a $55,000 cash giveaway, a promotion which has been well-received since its inception. After the first race one patron on hand wins $1,000. After the second race a patron gets $2,000. The amount of the prize jumps $1,000 with each ensuing race and the only key component is that the patron must be on hand and report in a certain amount of time (a reasonable amount) to collect the prize.
Outside of the 50-cent Corned Beef Sandwich promotion, which enhanced the program on Saturday, January 15, this cash promotion is as popular as any promotion offered for fans at Oaklawn this decade.
So, while the racing fans of the area brace themselves for the wintery onslaught on Wednesday, they take great solace in the improving conditions starting on Friday. Somehow, as long as we get racing back in action this weekend and are able to see the three-year-olds run in the Southwest on Monday, February 21, and the cash giveaway takes place on the same day, all the meteorologists, professional and amateur, will be forgiven.
The little bit of good weather news this week has been that there has been training over the Oaklawn track on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It means that the horses got to leave the confines of their stalls and shedrow and be horses on the track again. All that pent-up energy has had a chance to be spent on the track and life is a bit calmer at the barns.
The general feeling here is that the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel and racing will resume this weekend for sure. We'll do our best to put the bad stuff behind us and look ahead to the great races of the spring. Already people are forming their "wish lists" for the big races of the spring and we anticpate a full field for the Southwest on Monday, February 21, and, hopefully, some good, competitive races in the Martha Washington and the rescheduled Essex Handicap on this Saturday and Sunday.
It's time for the amateur meteorologists to back off.
The horses are nearing the starting gate.