Opening day at Oaklawn Park could be wet but, thankfully, not icy.
Rain is expected during the holiday weekend as the track launches its 113th season of live horse racing. Cloudy skies are forecast on Friday, when the 57-day campaign begins, with rain chances increasing to 40 percent through the first of two Monday cards at the meeting.
But after a blast of winter weather last week that brought light snow to the Spa City and curtailed training at Oaklawn, a frozen track Friday appears highly unlikely. With temperatures climbing out of the 40s today, the National Weather Service projects a high of 62 opening day.
Judging from their response Monday at the racing office, Oaklawn horsemen are raring to go.
The nine-race program drew a total of 104 horses with five races offering a full field of 14 including two extras.
Ten older horses entered the featured $125,000 Fifth Season, among them 2016 Smarty Jones winner Discreetness and millionaire Mr. Z, the latter a former stablemate of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah when owned by namesake Ahmed Zayat. Smack Smack, a non-winner in five Oaklawn starts, can top $1 million in career earnings with a victory for owner Toby Keith, the country-music star, and veteran trainer Don Von Hemel.
Others in the mile-and-sixteenth Fifth Season are Cutacorner, Code West, Pinson, For Greater Glory, Inside Straight, Chief of Staff and Domain's Rap. Still going at age 9, Domain's Rap finished second in last year's Grade 3 Razorback Handicap after winning three times at Oaklawn for leading owner Danny Caldwell and trainer Federico Villafranco. Fifth Season nominees including Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore, runner-up and third-place finisher in last year's Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, are being saved for later in the meeting.
The first maiden-special-weight event of the season Friday sends 3-year-olds one mile for a $72,000 purse. One race earlier, older fillies and mares go six furlongs for $76,000.
First post Friday is 12:35 p.m., gates opening at 11 a.m. for simulcast wagering. Oaklawn's gaming center is open from 10 a.m.-5 a.m. each Friday and Saturday and until 3 a.m. all other days.
Oaklawn offers its annual food promotion Saturday with the track's signature corned-beef sandwich selling for 50 cents (while supplies last) and soft drinks for a dime. Saturday's feature race is the $125,000 Pippin for older fillies and mares at a mile and sixteenth.
Monday's holiday card, which like Saturday's starts at 1:05 p.m., brings the $150,000 Smarty Jones for 3-year-olds going one mile. With each paid admission Monday, Oaklawn will give away a cap honoring four local campaigners named Horse of the Year: Curlin (2007, also honored in 2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Zenyatta (2010) and American Pharoah (2015).Sports on 01/10/2017