For the first time in its 117-year history, Oaklawn Park will add December dates to its racing calendar and will host 66 days of live racing beginning Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 through Sunday, May 8, 2022.
The season will be conducted on a largely Friday-through-Sunday schedule with some exceptions. The track will be dark over the Christmas holiday Dec. 24-26 and there will be no racing on Easter Sunday, Apr. 17. As is their custom, Oaklawn will host a holiday program on Presidents' Day, Monday, Feb. 21.
“For many years, horsemen have wanted to race here in December to fill a gap in their racing schedule,” said Oaklawn President Louis A. Cella, who has guided Oaklawn through the most dramatic changes in its history over the past four years. “We have completed our resort expansion, including the opening of our luxury hotel, spa and event center. Therefore, the timing is right for another expansion–to our live racing season. “We are looking forward to the new format. The additional days will provide a huge economic impact for horsemen, Arkansas Thoroughbred breeders and tourism in Central Arkansas.”
Purses for the season are projected to be between $45 and $50 million, the richest structure in the country at that time of the year, with all allowance races carrying purse money of at least $100,000. For the first time, the track will also be in a position to stage races for late-season 2-year-olds.
“We will offer 2-year-old racing in December,” Cella said, “and we anticipate additional exciting changes in our racing program, including an aggressive 2021-2022 stakes schedule. We are working on that now and will announce those changes soon. Suffice it to say that our stakes program will continue to be designed to attract the nation's best horses and best horsemen to Hot Springs.”
Locally based trainers have expressed their enthusiasm for the decision.
“I love it,” Hall of Famer and 11-time Oaklawn leading trainer Steve Asmussen said. “The more Oaklawn, the better.”
“I've been an advocate for this for years,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “I think it's a great addition and will keep our stables competitive. It's also going to be a popular time. People are already in a festive mood around the holidays and the weather in December is usually pretty good. I think there is going to be a strong fan base. I'm 100% for it.”
Added trainer Ron Moquett: “Oaklawn's new dates allow us horsemen to participate in the most lucrative purse circuit in America without any interruptions. It's now a smooth transition between Oaklawn, Churchill, and Saratoga.”