Thoroughbred horse racing has a little bit of everything, because it is a microcosm, a world in miniature, with heros and villains, great horses and lower claimers and outstanding sportsmen amid a sprinkling from all walks of life.
It is a world supercharged with as much emotion as an old three-reel melodrama. There are every day examples of dazzling successes and heart-wrenching failures.
The sport has all the components of the greater world except one. Racing is never, under any circumstances, a world of boredom.
For years it has reigned the most popular spectator sport in the world. Millions of people attend race tracks and simulcast outlets every year and bet billions of dollars. Yet, Charles J.Cella, owner of Oaklawn Park, is so right in insisting, "There are still millions of people out there waiting to be captivated."
In the days of Caligula, first century Romans turned to chariot racing and the craze was on. Ben Hur and Massala never really engaged in that bloody, no holds-barred, nose finish, but from the writings of Diocles, we know there were bookies, hot tips and fluctuating odds there at the Circus Maximus, where as many as 24 races a day were staged.
George Washington raced horses and, on occasion, served as a honorary steward for the Maryland Jockey Club. The first race in the United Stakes to attract world-wide interest was the 1823 match on Long Island between American Eclipse and Henry. A crowd of 60,000 attended the Union Course that day to see American Eclipse win. At the time, the population of New York City was something like 150,000.
Interest in racing continued unabated in the nineteenth century, one of two major changes being the end of three-mile heats in favor of one definitive test. The second advent was formation of the Jockey Club which oversees the the certification and registration of all Thoroughbreds.
Man o' War was everyone's hero in 1919-20. He was one of a parade of turf heros that have since included Equipoise, Count Fleet, Native Dancer, Citation, Kelso, Secretariat, John Henry and Cigar.
The founding of the American Triple Crown, the Thoroughbred Racing Association, Breeders' Cup, televised races and simulcasting became major moves of influence in the sport.
Jockeys like Eddie Arcaro, William Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Angele Cordero, Jr. Chris McCarron, Jerry Bailey and Pat Day emerged household names as did great trainers Ben Jones, Hirsch Jacobs, Laz Barrera, Charlie Whittingham, D. Wayne Lukas, Woody Stephens and James Fitzsimmons.
One of the foremost success stories in racing the last three decades has been Oaklawn Park, which staged its first meeting in 1905.
The family of Charles Cella has been involved in track management for a century.
"In all that time, I doubt any of us have had a boring day in racing," assured Cella, who took over Oaklawn from his father in 1968.
It is essential that racing continuously showcase its appeal, excitement and charm to fans new and long-time.
"As management, it is imperative that we provide a convenient, comfortable and functional facility, extending courteous and understanding service and thorough consideration to our fans needs. We want our patrons to find enjoyment in a pleasant atmosphere, to have fun and to return again soon," Cella says.
For all tracks, it is vital to keep attracting new fans.
First timers to racing may not realize that there are many different types of races held at Oaklawn. While many races appear much the same as others, there are conditions that limit certain types of horses to certain races.
Stakes and Handicap Races
Stakes and Handicap races offer the highest level of competition at Oaklawn. These races are run for larger purse monies and generally bring out the top horses. Stakes and handicap races require owners to pay a fee in order to nominate, enter and run their horses. The deadline to nominate a horse comes two weeks prior to the running of the race. Those fees are added to the money the track contributes to the purse. The track handicapper assigns the weights to be carried in handicap races, attempting to level the playing field among the participants.
The main difference between an overnight stakes race and a stakes race is the amount of fees a trainer entering his horse in the race pays to compete. Overnight stakes do not require nomination, entry and starting fees. Nomination for overnight stakes are generally taken up to a week before the race. Overnight stakes bring out quality horses to compete for excellent purse money.
Any horse entered in a claiming race is subject to purchase, for the amount for which the horse is entered, by any owner who has started a horse at that particular race meeting. In some such races the claiming price will have a range of several thousand dollars with weight allowances made for horses entered at the lower prices. The claiming race is a method of classifying horses in order to produce races involving competition of equal ability. When a horse wins easily while running among $5,000 claimers he is usually moved up in value to avoid his being claimed.
Starter Allowance Race
Starter allowance races combine the elements of claiming and allowance races to provide a unique and highly competitive contest. Starter allowances share the quality of an allowance race in that the entered horses cannot be purchased or "claimed". All entered horses in a starter allowance must have run in a claiming race during a designated amount of time. The starter allowance generally brings together the best of the the claiming-level competitors.
A race for horses that have never won. A horse is considered a maiden until it wins a race for the first time. Maidens can stop out of their division and face winners.
Although there are many types of races, they all proceed in much the same manner. The horses are saddled in the paddock, from where they are paraded in front of the grandstand so that all the patrons may get a look at the horses prior to the start. Different items catch the eye of different fans, which is why there is no sure-fire way to pick a winner--everybody seems to see things a bit differently. Once the parade has ended the horses go into a warmup which lasts from five to eight minutes, depending on the time the race is scheduled to start. Once they are loaded into their assigned starting stalls in the gate, they're on their way and the real drama of the race is set to unfold. Races at Oaklawn are scheduled at distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 3/4 miles, which means a race could run anywhere from just over a minute to around three minutes.
The Oaklawn track is a carefully engineered and well kept surface. The track consists of four layers which provide good drainage, a firm base and a soft cushion for racing.
- Oaklawn Track Data
- One mile sandy loam oval
- Length of Stretch
- 1,155 feet
- Width of Track
- 70 feet on turns, 80 feet
- Total acreage
- At its best, dry and even.
- During or immediately after a heavy rain; may have puddles but base is still firm and running time remains fast.
- Soft and wet.
- A drying track, between muddy and good.
- Still wet, between heavy and good.
- Drying but still wet.
- An off track is anything other than fast.