01/19/2007 1:00AM

20,000 ignore chilly weather opening day


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The 1-horse won the first race at Oaklawn Park, and for the large, loud crowd that turned out for the track's first day of a 56-date meet on Friday, it was on. Oaklawn's opening day is a major social scene in Arkansas, and temperatures around 45 degrees and cloudy skies did little to deter 20,070 patrons from turning out for a card in which Irish Dreamer upset the featured $50,000 Dixieland Stakes, race 8.

All-sources handle on the nine-race card topped $4.5 million.

Race fans also watched jockey Terry Thompson win the 1,999th race of his career in the sixth, when Wildwood Pegasus ($12.40) led throughout a first-level allowance for trainer Terry Gestes.

The prices Friday ranged from Aubee's Amail ($4.60) in race 7 for trainer Sonny Wigginton and jockey Joe Johnson to the $33.60 that rewarded those who bet $2 to win on Irish Dreamer.

In the Dixieland for 3-year-olds, Irish Dreamer stalked the pressured pace set by Tricky's Tick Tock and was explosive through the stretch, winning by 3 1/4 lengths and covering 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.40. Eddie Razo Jr., a new rider at the meet, was aboard for trainer Chris Richard, and said the win was a good way to break in.

"Winning a stakes was a good impression on the trainers that I have never met before," said Razo.

The Dixieland was the first stakes win for Irish Dreamer, who races for K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman.

Despite the cold temperatures Friday, there was little wind, making it comfortable on the apron. That is where Shanna Wallace and her friend Paula Williams watched Big Slew ($5.60) capture the second race in a photo under Calvin Borel, one of two winners on the card for the rider and trainer Ron Moquett.

"This is my first time ever being here," said Wallace. "I've lived in Hot Springs all my life. I am 35 years old and I've never been to this track and I won!"

Wallace said Oaklawn's promotion of selling its corned beef sandwiches for 50 cents on Friday was one reason she came to the track.

Williams has been to Oaklawn before, and was thrilled with the track's new video board in the infield. She and Wallace were standing along the rail, near the giant television located on the north end of the main tote board.

"I really like the screen," said Williams. "You can be out here, and instead of just having to watch the numbers, you can watch all the stuff you could only see inside on the screens before. The small screens. So, it really makes it nicer to be outside and be able to see all the horses and the information that they put on the screen."

Eric Jackson, general manager of Oaklawn, said the new video board is approximately 27 feet high and 18 feet wide. The total cost for the screen, including installation, was about $500,000, Jackson said. It's the first time Oaklawn has had an infield screen of any kind.

In another noticeable change, there was less space than usual on the west side of the paddock following an off-season expansion of the track's Instant Racing room, home to the electronic parimutuel games and the new, card-based electronic games. In time, the gaming will warrant construction of a separate building on the Oaklawn property, said Jackson.