01/28/2002 1:00AM

Numbers up at Oaklawn opener


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Unseasonably warm weather helped Oaklawn Park draw 46,299 patrons over the three-day opening weekend of its 54-day meet last Friday. The season runs through April 13.

Last year, the track opened the first weekend in February, and over the first three days drew 44,076.

Oaklawn's handle from all sources last weekend topped $15.1 million, more than last year's corresponding handle of $14.6 million.

A crowd of 18,142 filled the grandstand opening day this year, an increase of 1,294 patrons over the 16,848 the track drew in 2001.

On Saturday, attendance was 17,406, and on Sunday, 10,751, which made for a strong weekend average of 15,433.

On its nine-race opening day card, Oaklawn handled $4,735,954. A day later business surged, as Oaklawn handled $5,736,053 on its live program, and $6.1 million from all sources, including incoming simulcasts, besting the track's opening-weekend Saturday handle from both 2000 and 2001. Handle on Sunday's card was $3,637,347, bringing the track's average handle on its races for the weekend to $4,703,118.