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Oaklawn Racetrack in Hot Springs Expands Horse Racing Season

The Oaklawn horse track in Arkansas is adding December races to its schedule, extending the season to 66 days, the resort announced Monday.

Oaklawn racetrack
Horses leave the starting gate during a race at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark. The historic horse track plans to add races in December. (Image: Thoroughbred Racing Dudes)

With December races added, the upcoming season at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort will run from Dec. 3, 2021, to May 8, 2022. This year’s 57-day season went from Jan. 22 to May 1.

The racetrack and resort are in Hot Springs, about an hour southwest of Little Rock, the state capital. Little Rock is in central Arkansas. 

Oaklawn President Louis A. Cella said the recent construction of a 198-room hotel at the resort makes the timing right to expand the racing season. 

For many years, horsemen have wanted to race here in December to fill a gap in their racing schedule,” Cella said.

The resort plans to seek approval at an upcoming Arkansas Racing Commission meeting for the expanded season.

In the new season, horse racing will not be held Dec. 24-26 during the holidays. The track also will be closed on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022. Racing will take place on Presidents Day, Feb. 21, 2022.

Racing has occurred at the track since 1904. It is home to the annual Arkansas Derby, an important run-up to the Triple Crown races. One of the most acclaimed Arkansas Derby winners, American Pharoah, won the Triple Crown in 2015 

For decades, casinos operated illegally but openly in Hot Springs, attracting underworld figures such as Chicago’s Al Capone. In the 1960s, authorities permanently closed the gaming halls. Oaklawn now is the only place in Hot Springs where legal casino gambling occurs.

‘A Great Addition’

Trainer Ron Moquett said Oaklawn’s extended season allows people in the horse racing world “to participate in the most lucrative purse circuit in America without any interruptions.”

“It’s now a smooth transition between Oaklawn, Churchill, and Saratoga,” he said.

US Racing Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he has been an advocate of an expanded Oaklawn season for years.

“I think it’s a great addition and will keep our stables competitive,” he said. “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.”

Dog Racing to End at Southland

In addition to Oaklawn, two other commercial casinos are in operation in Arkansas. They are Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis and Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff. A fourth casino has been licensed for Russellville, but is tied up in a legal dispute.

Dog racing occurs at Southland, though it will be discontinued next year. The resort will remain fully operational. A 21-story hotel under construction at the site is expected to open next year.

At the end of 2022, West Virginia is expected to be the only state with legal dog racing.

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