Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort of Hot Springs said Monday that it wants to add December live racing dates to its calendar and host a 66-day season, from Dec. 3, 2021-May 8, 2022.
Oaklawn plans to seek approval of the new thoroughbred racing schedule from the Arkansas Racing Commission at its next meeting at 11 a.m. on June 17. The commission plans to meet by phone and this approval is the only agenda item. Call 872-240-3212 and enter code 372-501-101 to attend the meeting.
"For many years, horsemen have wanted to race here in December to fill a gap in their racing schedule," Oaklawn President Louis Cella said in a news release. "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."
Oaklawn's live racing seasons start in January. But the new 66-day season would begin in December, conducted largely on a Friday-Sunday basis, with some exceptions. There would be no racing Dec. 24-26 or on Easter Sunday, April 17. Racing will continue to be offered on Presidents' Day, which is Monday, Feb. 21.
"We are looking forward to the new format," Cella said. "The additional days will provide a huge economic impact for horsemen, Arkansas Thoroughbred breeders and tourism in Central Arkansas."
Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, said the $100 million Oaklawn expansion, which opened in April, provided the city with new amenities, including a a 200-room high-rise hotel; 28,000 SF of gaming space with a new high-roller area; and an upscale restaurant and bar that overlook the race track.
"The additional live racing dates will further cement Oaklawn's status as a premier economic engine for our city," Arrison said. "We all look forward to this great new reason for everyone to visit Hot Springs."
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the move would keep the 117-year-old track competitive.
"It's also going to be a popular time," Lukas said. "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."
Purses for the 2022 season are projected to be $45 million-$50 million, the highest in America at that time of year, with all allowance races starting at $100,000, according to the resort.
"To be able to offer six-figure allowance races for five consecutive months is a very strong statement," Oaklawn Racing Secretary Pat Pope said.