01/15/2008 12:00AM

Barns at capacity as meet opener nears

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Oaklawn Park will not be lacking for horses when the track opens its 54-date meet on Friday. There were 173 names on a giant work tab Tuesday morning, while almost all of the approximately 1,500 stalls in the stable area were occupied.

"We're over 1,450 and they're still coming in," racing secretary Pat Pope said of the horse population on Tuesday. "So, by opening day, we expect to be at capacity."

Last meet's top 20 trainers by number of starters are all back, Pope said, and some 20 new outfits have come to Hot Springs. Mike Gorham leads the charge of new trainers, which also includes Chad Brown, David Cross, Vickie Foley, David Forster, Eric Reed, Hugh Robertson, Chuck Simon, and Jack Van Berg. Cody Autrey and Dallas Stewart also have divisions at Oaklawn.

"We really did a strong recruiting program," said Pope. "We visited all over the country."

Purses of $300,000 a day have also attracted back such horsemen as Steve Asmussen, the nation's leading trainer in wins last year as well as the winner of the Oaklawn trainer title. Other regulars with strong divisions here include Larry Jones and D. Wayne Lukas.

Calvin Borel, who won last year's Kentucky Derby aboard Street Sense, was among the riders working horses on a resurfaced Oaklawn track Tuesday.

It was a chilly but sunny morning, with temperatures in the 30s before the break. Borel will be part of a strong group of riders that includes defending champ Luis Quinonez, and veterans Cliff Berry, Tim Doocy, Joe Johnson, Eddie Razo, and Terry Thompson. Among the new riders in town are Ricky Frazier, Kirk LeBlanc, Larry Melancon, Clinton Potts, Joe Rocco, and apprentice Dylan Williams.

Oaklawn will have a four-day opening weekend this meet with a special holiday card on Monday. The first stakes of the season, the $50,000 Dixieland for 3-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs, will be run Friday.

Gold Coyote, who last year at 2 earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, got his first look at the Oaklawn surface on Tuesday after shipping in Monday afternoon. Trainer Bret Calhoun said Ramsey Zimmerman will come in to ride Gold Coyote in the Dixieland.

Yonegwa, a multiple stakes winner who has been racing in New Mexico, is also expected to start, and trainer Allen Milligan said he plans to enter the promising Kinetic Motion.

The forecast for opening day is partly cloudy skies with a high of 50 degrees, according to weather.com. The Oaklawn meet will run through April 12.