At Last

Nov. 14, 2012

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For many of us the greatest moments in recent Oaklawn history were created by Zenyatta’s performances here in winning the 2008 and 2010 Apple Blossom Handicaps and, in between, capturing the nation’s attention as, arguably, the greatest American racehorse since Secretariat.

We have waited for some time for a sibling to take center stage and that is scheduled  to happen on Friday of this week in the fourth race of the day at Hollywood Park.  Corey Nakatani, who has a lot of fans in this area, will ride the three-year-old filly, named Eblouissante.  The filly, trained by John Sheriffs, who also trained Zenyatta, will be racing a mile-and-a-sixteenth and not in the silks of the Moss family, but those of her owner Eric Kronfield.  Many in racing have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this filly to the races.  Trainer Sheriffs has taken his time with this filly, in much the same way he did with her sister, and this one, a daughter of Bernardini, will be well-backed in her debut.

The debut of Eblouissante to the races will have a difficult event being a rousing success, since her sister left such an indelible hoofprint on the sport that will be virtually impossible to replicate at any level.  Kin to great horses rarely match the quality of their brothers and sisters, but that doesn’t keep us all from hoping that lightning will strike twice and bring us two of the same quality.  Many of us will be watching anxiously.  What running style will she have?  Can she win going so far in her first try?  I’ll be just as enthused as every other racing fan on Friday afternoon.

I am also excited to see Stall Superintendent Beverly Fowler back on the job at Oaklawn.  The presence of the well-respected former trainer, lets us know that horses are due to arrive momentarily. People in the area are already prepping for the opening of the live season.  Many of the restaurants and clubs in the area are already lining up racing speakers for early-season events.  Some of the veteran owners and trainers are showing up to see simulcast races.  Horse vans are suddenly showing up on city streets.  “Showtime in Hot Springs” is not that far away.

Thanksgiving weekend makes for some special opening times at the track. On Thanksgiving Day the doors for both simulcasting and gaming open at 9:30 a.m.  On the following two days, November 23-24, doors open at 10:30 p.m.  Those will be the final two days of the Churchill Fall Meet. In the past they have given players a good chance to avoid the traffic and crowd attendant at the Black Friday and Saturday shopping bonanzas at the Malls.  Now that the latter are starting sooner, there may be more fans available to spend the day at Oaklawn.  Fair Grounds, which has always been a popular track for simulcast players, starts on Thanksgiving Day and will be in action as well through the weekend.

This week, on Saturday, November 17, Churchill Downs will present an evening program, which uses the title “Downs After Dark.”  First post time will be 3:30 (CST).

All of this serves to point out that Oaklawn’s live racing season will be on us before we know it.  January 11 is set to be the first day of the live meet, with 56 racing days on the schedule.  The first weekend will go for three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Beginning the following week, racing will be conducted primarily for four days a week.  The second weekend will include racing on Monday, January 21, the date of the first six-figure purse of the season, the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, for three-year-olds at one mile.  It will be the first chance for the best of the local sophomore class to display their talents on the road to the Arkansas Derby and the Triple Crown.

With all the distractions of the holiday season, it will be time for Oaklawn to open soon.  Make sure you’ve cleared your schedule so that you can join us once again.  It will be tough to top the fine weather which Mother Nature provided us through most of the 2012 meet, but we’ve learned to deal with whatever she brings.  We love live racing and suddenly it is clear that the season is upon us.  In all my time at Oaklawn the live meet has been looked upon as the Fifth Season in Arkansas, right between Fall and Winter or Winter and Spring.  Whichever it is, it’s all good.

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