01/18/2008 12:00AM

Crowd of 20,819 braves cold


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A lot of people must have called in sick on Friday. Oaklawn Park drew 20,819 patrons for the first card of its 54-date season, which opened under sunny skies but cold weather. Temperatures were in the mid-40s throughout the afternoon, which was highlighted by a charging Carson's Legacy overtaking pacesetter Yonegwa in the stretch run of the $50,000 Dixieland Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Oaklawn's opening is a major social tradition in Arkansas, and every floor of the grandstand as well as the apron was filled with enthusiastic fans of all ages. The scene was much the same a year ago, when the track drew 20,070 for its opener. The races Friday were formful, with favorite Bagoga winning the first race as the favorite for trainer Cody Autrey, who has horses stabled on the grounds for the first time.

"There's a lot of new faces here this meet," said jockey Luis Quinonez, who rode Carson's Legacy.

The win in the Dixieland put Quinonez and trainer Steve Asmussen straight to work toward their second consecutive titles at Oaklawn. Others getting off to a fast start Friday included jockey Eddie Razo, who won three races on the nine-race card, and trainer Steve Hobby, who sent out the winners of the second and fourth races.

Trainer Randy Morse sent out Daughtry ($9.60) to an 8 1/2-length win in the fifth race for the most dominating performance of the day.

"Overall, it looks like they've got a good crowd," Morse said between races. "The atmosphere is good. It usually is this time of year here. They're the greatest fans in the world for horse racing, in my opinion.

"A lot of them have been coming for years. Their dads brought them here, and stuff like that."

Frank Armstrong of Little Rock has been coming to opening day since 1967. He took a reprieve from the crowd in a stairwell overlooking the sea of faces on the first floor.

"It's typical Oaklawn opening day," he said.

As it has the past several years, Oaklawn sold corned beef sandwiches for 50 cents as part of the opening-day festivities. The lines for the sandwiches were 25 deep on three floors 90 minutes before post for the first race of the season.

In the feature, Carson's Legacy ($8.60) rolled past Yonegwa in the stretch, covering the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.57.

The win was the second stakes score for Carson's Legacy, who races for Padua Stables. The favorite, Gold Coyote, finished fifth in his first start since September.