01/23/2004 1:00AM

Huge crowd sees 'Saltwater' score


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Saltwater Runner remained perfect in three career starts when she swept past pacesetter Movant to win the $50,000 Dixie Belle before an opening day crowd of 25,137 at Oaklawn Park on Friday.

Saltwater Runner ($8.40) settled in nicely behind the early leaders, advanced around the turn, and jetted clear in the stretch to win the six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies by 2 1/2 lengths. Movant held second, a neck clear of Yoursmineours.

"She really did this easy," said winning jockey John McKee, who rode Saltwater Runner for owner Lewis Lakin and trainer Bob Holthus. "She put me right where I wanted to be without any effort and when she ran to the leader she did it well within herself."

Saltwater Runner, a daughter of Salt Lake, covered the distance over a fast track in 1:11.10. She earned $30,000 for the win, which was her first in a stakes. She has now earned $74,640.

McKee, who should make an impact in his first season at Oaklawn riding for such high-powered trainers as Holthus, had an up and down afternoon.

In the first race of the meet, McKee guided the Holthus-trained Leveling Playingfield to victory in a one-other-than allowance for 3-year-olds.

One race later, McKee avoided serious injury after being thrown when Gold Panic stumbled badly just after the start of a 1 1/16-mile maiden claimer.

Overall, the opening was a huge day for the track, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary season. Last year, Oaklawn had 14,794 patrons on opening day, which also fell on a Friday, although the start of the meet was pushed back a week because of inclement weather.

This year the meet opened to a gorgeous, sunny day in the mid-50's. Patrons filled up the entire apron during the races, and inside the grandstand, lines for reduced food prices were stacked deep. Oaklawn sold hot dogs and sodas for 10 cents, and corned beef sandwiches for 50 cents. It was a huge hit with patrons.

"This girl just won $13 and I said, 'Well that's 130 Cokes,' " said Robin Johnson, an Oaklawn regular from Rolland, Ark.

Oaklawn, which ran out of corned beef sandwiches before the end of the card, went through 3,000 pounds of corned beef on Friday, said Eric Jackson, the track's general manager. Jackson estimated the track sold 10,000 hot dogs.

"This has been one of the most remarkable openings at Oaklawn Park," he said.

Oaklawn's largest opening day crowd was 56,214 in 1982.

Handle on last year's 10-race card was $4,895,545. Friday, the handle for nine races was $4,903,241.

Status changes for Beau's Town

Beau's Town's status as a registered, or accredited, Arkansas-bred has been revoked after it was discovered that he does not meet the requirements of the state's breed-back rule, said an official with the Arkansas Racing Commission.

The change means Beau's Town is ineligible to earn any Arkansas-bred incentive awards for his owners and breeder, or compete in races restricted to horses bred in Arkansas.

Until the ruling, Beau's Town was arguably the best Arkansas-bred in training. He was one of the nation's leading sprinters last year with wins in the Grade 2 Bing Crosby at Del Mar and the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn. He was bred by Bryant Prentice III and races for Dave Hulkewicz and Coast to Coast Racing.

* A competitive group of fillies and mares will meet in Sunday's eighth race, a one-mile optional claimer. Among the 11 in the field are stakes winners Curious Conundrum, Blue Guru, Salzurita, Due to Win, and Drexel Monorail.

The race figures to produce starters for the $50,000 Pippin at Oaklawn on Feb. 14.