Feb. 21, 2013
A DIARY OF THE BIGGEST DAY YET AT OAKLAWN, 2013
7:00 a.m. All is quiet at the track except for the radio remote that popular deejay, Bob Robbins, is doing for his listeners at KSSN in Little Rock. The place looks as clean and gleaming as is possible. It’s hard to imagine that a bustling crowd of over 11,000 were jamming into the grandstand only less than 24 hours previous. It’s normal to have a good Saturday and Sunday preceding the President’s Day, but this was an especially good crowd. Anticipating what might happen for Monday’s crowd was tough.
We know all the hotels and condos appear to be full up in town and we know that the combination of a $55,000 progressive cash giveaway and the $300,000 Southwest Stakes have been the draw for a long time. What we couldn’t predict was the weather forecast for rain and the Classix carryover pool of $303,752. That is the highest carryover pool since the wager became a $1 play last year. The largest carryover pool in Classix occurred in 1999, when Classix was a $2 play. A run from March 31-April 9 brought the carryover pool to $793,356. That carryover pool brought a total of $1,274,477 wagered into the pool on that day. There were multiple winners on that day, so that it wasn’t the occasion of the record payout. That record is the payoff of $818,693.40, which was paid to one winner on February 15, 1995. No telling how the Classix will draw play both through the local crowd and the simulcast outlets, except that it figures to be good, rain or shine.
9:30 a.m. The anticipation among the employees is for a big day, regardless of the weather conditions. The enthusiasm among that group is palpable, since there is every reason to expect between 25,000-30,000 will jam into the grandstand. That will make for some significant pedestrian traffic jams in the grandstand and long lines at the concession stands. The pressure is on and the customer service training comes in handy in times like these. One nice thing Oaklawn has going for it is the app which is available for fans to have downloaded onto their mobile devices. The “My Oaklawn” app only works in the building, but saves many fans the stress of standing in long mutuel lines. This is one day that “My Oaklawn” figures to get plenty of play.
Gates open in less than two hours. There was a very brief and light shower earlier and the sky is full of clouds, so there’s no doubt that rain will figure in somehow. Players would appreciate that it either rains or doesn’t rain so that they can work on their Classix tickets. Obviously, with the weather, those players have no clout. The good news here this morning is that it looks like what rain will fall will be done by late morning and that there might very well be sunshine later this afternoon. Oaklawn owner, Charles Cella, always loved to claim “The Sun Always Shines at Oaklawn.” It looks like he might be right again today. Some thunderstorms might develop late this afternoon and early evening, but that will probably have little impact on the crowd. The progressive cash giveaway should keep the crowd at the track until after the final race and the only problem which might develop would be a large traffic jam going on during unpleasant weather conditions. Gates open for racing at 11:00 a.m. and there’s always a line of fans ready to go. They only have simulcast to play until the 1:00 p.m. first post time. The first cash giveaway will be right after the first race. As large as the crowd is, they will quiet down significantly when announcer Frank Mirahmadi announces the name of that first cash winner.
12:00 Noon. The crowd is flocking in and the rain has pretty much let up, so the track appears to be fast and we’ll have to wait a while and see how it plays early on. There is a lot of talk about the progressive cash giveaway, since everyone gets a registration blank on arrival and needs to know where to deposit it in time for the first drawing. The other main subject is Classix and the big carryover pool. Since it is a $1 play, many who would otherwise overlook it, are making sure they have something down. Those who have already invested well into the play are making sure they are backing up their earlier investments. It’s not easy to build this kind of carryover in a $1 play and, when they look at the long fields of lower-level claimers, the races look that much tougher to pick. There are some smart racetrackers who believe it can escape the handicappers again today. I doubt it, but we shall see.
2:05 p.m. We are closing in on the Classix and race number 3. So far the first two races were pretty “chalky”, going to runners from Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., America’s leading owners. The double putting their two runners together, Custer and Veillit’, returned just $15.80, so the players who like the favorites are a bit more confident in their selections in the pick-six drawing. So far we’ve had two people win money in the Progressive Cash Giveaway and neither are people I know. Darned.
There are sure a lot of people here and, if you’re willing to be blown about by a stout southern wind, the apron has been a good spot for many. This is a really big throng and most racetracks would love to have a gathering like this in mid-February. Just the same, I’m glad I’m not a jockey in these conditions.
2:15 p.m. Classix is underway. Mizzen Maze, from the barn of local trainer, Rick Jackson, scored the win at odds of 9-2, as the favored Dark Ruler (7-2) ran second. The Oaklawn website had that winner on top, so we’re one-for-one in Classix today. The $3,000 winner in the Progressive Cash Giveaway is the second winner from the small Arkansas town of Morrilton. Big day so far for that little town.
2:37 p.m. Big flash of lightning and crash of thunder. Then nothing. Within a half hour a large patch of blue sky arrives from the south. This is a strange day. Second race of the Classix went to a first-time starter, Hes a Cat, returning $22.40.
3:10 p.m. Finally a horse with some backing, the favored and speedy Harborplace ($6.00) wins a Classix race. Those who are still alive breathe a sigh of relief. But he won by a fast-diminishing nose over 10-1 shot, Flattermejim. That’s too close for comfort. Weather Channel maps suggests that storms are an hour or hour-and-a-half away. There sure are a lot of fans in the grandstand
3:40 p.m. Stereo in Motion, favored at 9-5, wins the sixth race and a number of players breathe a bit easier. The announcement comes from the Mutuels Department that the total pool in Classix today will be $548,553. If somehow or other the players don’t hit the Classix today, that will be the carryover pool to Thursday. If it happens, it would be the third largest Pick-Six or Classix carryover pool since Oaklawn started the wager in 1986. Big patch of blue sky. This is one of the strangest weather days I can remember and I’ve been here since 1975. It still looks like things will get stormy around the Southwest Stakes, which will give the connections an excuse and let a bunch of them point to the Rebel Stakes on March 16.
4:10 p.m. Website Longshot of the Day, Transylvania Flash, wins easily and returns $19.80. The likely number of Classix winners just dropped with that one.
4:33 p.m. Just six minutes to post for the eighth and here came the deluge. Under a heavy downpour, which changed the track to sloppy in just minutes, Bobcat Jim, owned by country singing star, Toby Keith, went to the front and never looked back en route to a convincing win at $11.80. The Classix scramble ends when the official sign is posted and there was one winning ticket, worth $548,553, a possible life-altering event. All the money winners in the Progressive Cash Giveaway were appearing except the one drawn immediately after the 8th race, Bobby Broadway of Little Rock. I feel sure that anyone who knows him will make sure to contact him and give him a little smack about leaving $8,000 on the table. I hope he didn’t leave to beat the rain. That wasn’t worth it.
5:10 p.m. With a sloppy track, the Bob Baffert trainee, Super Ninety Nine, was the even-money favorite for the Southwest Stakes. His front-running allowance win at Santa Anita was impressive and Super Ninety Nine seemed perfectly-suited for the conditions. A big patch of sunlight looms in the west, but ominous black clouds still settle in over the Oaklawn grandstand, however the Weather Channel map suggests there may be a bit more rain, but the worst is over. It’s still going to be messy in traffic after the races.
5:15 p.m. There’s no question that Super Ninety Nine will become a name on the lips of the pundits as they talk about the best of the three-year-olds. He won quite easily under Rafael Bejarano and instantly became the favorite for the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. Even with the sloppy conditions that was the most impressive performance of the season. So much for the need of a rider to have a previous mount in the afternoon. Bejarano became the first to win a stakes at Oaklawn this year without a previous mount. The issue was never really in question and there are few jockeys around who could not have gone along on this joyride successfully.
A crowd of 25,854 attended the races under these strange weather conditions and it appears that they will have clear skies and wet roads for their exits out of town. Only two things were left following the Southwest. Calvin Borel rode first-timer Hezunusal as he tried for win #5,000 in the 10th race and there was still a $10,000 prize to be given to one patron in attendance. No dice, though, for Borel, as his horse was never a factor after a slow start and the last winner of the day was 11-1 longshot Energy’s Pride. The announced $10,000 winner was Wylie Hulsey of North Little Rock, AR, who certainly had a lot more friends than he started with this day.
5:55 p.m. Many fans poured out onto the parking lots while a number made their way to the Gaming Center to try to recoup what had been left on the racetrack. The entire routine will go around in time for Thursday’s live races. Employees will either sleep off the long day or set to cleaning in time for Tuesday simulcast races. The place will be clean enough to eat off the floor and Oaklawn will gear up for what remains of this great season. It’s days like today which remain etched in your memory, if you’re attached to Oaklawn. And it’s days like today which carry on the legend of what make Oaklawn stand out so much in the eyes of the racing world.