01/15/2011 7:43PM

Oaklawn attracts 20,176 for season opener as Mazucambera upsets Dixie Belle

Jeff Coady/ Coady Photography
Mazucambera, ridden by Alex Birzer, connects at 16-1 in the opening-day Dixie Belle.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The Oaklawn Park meet that began a day later than intended on Saturday because of a winter blast lost none of its annual luster. A crowd of 20,176 packed the apron under cool but sunny skies to watch Cinderella story Mazucambera take the $50,000 Dixie Belle.

They were also treated to the comebacks of popular horsemen Calvin Borel and Larry Jones. Borel got the card off to a rousing start, when he won the first race of the season with Jersey Shore Girl, his first mount since breaking his jaw in a spill in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot in November.

Jones, meanwhile, resumed training earlier this year after retiring in November 2009, and had his first starter back in the seventh race with Commander. The horse was part of a three-way photo with winner Alternation and runner-up Elite Alex. All three figure to see stakes action later in the meet at Oaklawn.

Mazucambera was claimed for $30,000 one start prior to the Dixie Belle, a race in which she found more in the stretch to surge past Roma Jean and win by three-quarters of a length. The winner covered the six furlongs on a track rated fast in 1:13.61. Roma Jean held second in the Dixie Belle, a length clear of third-place finisher Put and Take.

Mazucambera ($34) had been claimed out of a six-furlong race at Churchill Downs back in November.

“It was really just based on her past performances,” said Elliott Phillips, who owns Mazucambera with his wife, Sue.

Phillips said he won a two-way shake for the filly, and felt good about the claim because high percentage trainer Tom Amoss had also dropped on the horse on behalf of a client. Mazucambera won the day she was claimed. Alex Birzer rode her in the Dixie Belle for trainer Martin Rouck.

Mazucambera earned $30,000 for the win, which was her second from six starts. She is a daughter of Milwaukee Brew and she could return to racing around two turns for her next start, said Elliott Phillips.

Oaklawn’s ontrack crowd roared right down to Miner Bird’s win in the ninth and final race on the card. And the crowd was on par with last year, when 20,311 turned out for the opener that went off as scheduled, on a Friday.

Oaklawn’s opening weekend will continue through the holiday Monday.

Oaklawn was hit with more than five inches of snow last Sunday, which led to the cancellation of training from Monday through Thursday. The horses were able to get on the track for the first time in a week at about 4 p.m. Central on Friday, after track maintenance crews had harrowed the surface for about eight hours.

“All in all it was a great opening day, especially considering where we were 48 hours ago,” said David Longinotti, the assistant general manager of racing for Oaklawn. “Wednesday afternoon, we weren’t sure if we would be racing at all this weekend.”

Handle on the live card from all sources was $3.9 million, compared with $3.6 million during the Friday opener a year ago.