March 15, 2012
While we certainly don’t have an exclusive on Community Outreach from among America’s racetracks, I am proud to see that Oaklawn engages seriously in efforts to reach out to the community and be very involved.
Over the past day or two it was good to see that our new track announcer, Frank Mirahmadi, used part of a day off to speak to a local Rotary club. I was also fortunate to be part of a presentation at the Garland County Library. It is a lunchtime gathering of racing fans which is offered once a month and features members of the racing community. Joining me on Wednesday were jockeys Calvin Borel, Joe Johnson and Terry Thompson, along with trainer Brad Cox. Upon leaving that group, the jockeys headed over to St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Center, our largest hospital, where they visited many patients who have learned to hold those jockeys in high respect, largely because they’re involved with Oaklawn.
These are not the exceptions, but pretty much the rule in our town and those surrounding towns which make up Garland County.
In addition, the Oaklawn Foundation for the Future of Hot Springs was created less than a decade ago, following the successful election which allowed for electronic gaming at Oaklawn. That Foundation, which operates separate from Oaklawn, is still funded primarily by monies created through wagering on gaming at Oaklawn. In turn the Foundation provides scholarships annually to residents of Garland County to continue in their educational pursuits and also provides for special programs designed for the aging in the community. The Foundation was provided $1 million in seed funds from the Cella Family when it was founded and it has built on that amount, creating a very positive experience in the community.
To that degree Oaklawn is very responsible for the continuing success of the Foundation and makes its philanthropic presence well appreciated in the community.
Add to those items the fact that Oaklawn offers its infield for the annual Relay For Life celebration in the early summer, hosts the community fireworks display on July 4 and is often the site of local and state cross country championships.
While there has been a substantial effort within the racing industry to support internal charitable organizations of merit, Oaklawn has not lost sight of its responsibility to respond to the needs of its patrons and those things which impact them on a daily basis. If there is one thing which allows Oaklawn to continue to be successful when others are failing, it is the Oaklawn willingness to reach outside of its own needs and address those of the people who make things happen for us at the track.
That good feeling between the track and the community represents a major element in the success of this track. Visitors to Hot Springs get the feel of it immediately. In a discussion I had recently with Frank Mirahmadi, I found that he discovered exactly the same sensations which I did when I came to this town 38 years ago. The people of this town put their arms around those of us at Oaklawn and make us feel like friends of their families.
When people ask me what is the secret for Oaklawn’s success, I am like everyone else. I can’t put my finger on just one thing. But one thing I do know for certain is that the involvement of Oaklawn in those parts of the everyday life of our fellow citizens can’t be overlooked.
I was moved in the last evening is seeing the quotes which came from Little Rock businessman and entrepreneur, Frank Fletcher, after he spent a fortune buying two-year-olds in training at a sale in Florida. Fletcher never forgets where he came from. He didn’t spout off that he was buying horses in hopes of winning the Kentucky Derby or Oaks or one of the Triple Crown horses. He let us all know that his goal is to win the Arkansas Derby.
That’s the way it is in Arkansas and Hot Springs. There is a pride in this state and its traditions. Of course Oaklawn has become one of the most significant traditions, since it’s been presenting major league horse racing here for over a century.
When this writer came to Arkansas, the tradition grabbed me immediately. I bought into the “Kool Aid”, as they like to say nowadays. I am now proud to call many Arkansans my best friends. I am proud to work for a company which celebrates Community Outreach. It is a pleasure to contribute my time and efforts to people who also feel that way. As we approach the Racing Festival and the races leading up to it, I suspect we’ll meet new individuals from other locales who will discover the wonders of this place. Welcome to all. It may take some effort to get here, since Hot Springs is not “right off the interstate”, but it’s worth the time. If you haven’t yet done so, come and see for yourself. You’ll want to stay.