01/13/2011 2:47PM

Oaklawn cancels its opening day card; meet expected to begin Saturday

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - With the Oaklawn Park racing surface failing to thaw out fast enough following a Sunday snowstorm, track officials have called off Friday’s nine-race opening-day card. Oaklawn is expected to race on Saturday.

It is the fourth time Oaklawn has been forced to cancel an opening-day program. The track lost openers in 2003, 1997, and 1979.

Oaklawn has been unable to open its racing surface for training since the storm due to freezing temperatures. Officials were hoping to train on the track Thursday afternoon, but temperatures stalled in the 20s.

“This is the lingering effects from the snow,” said David Longinotti, assistant general manager of racing for Oaklawn. “There were really cold temperatures last night and with it not warming up as quickly today as we were hoping, the decision was made to cancel.

“We will be racing on Saturday and that’s definite because the weather forecast looks very favorable for us.”

Temperatures Saturday are forecast to reach 46 degrees.

Hot Springs was hit with more than five inches of snow Sunday. The forecast for Friday was 46 degrees, but because temperatures have been dipping into the teens each night this week, the surface has not been able to fully thaw. Overnight temperatures for Friday night are supposed to remain above freezing.

Longinotti said Oaklawn officials and board members of the Arkansas Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association had discussions on the status of the surface and jointly decided that if the track was able to be opened for training early Thursday afternoon that it would be possible to race Friday.

Winter weather has taken its toll on other southern states this week, with Fair Grounds in New Orleans being forced to cancel its Thursday card due to a frozen racing surface.

“Not only have blusterly conditions been a challenge for our track maintenance crew, but there are still roads throughout Arkansas that remain unsafe for travel due to icy conditions,” said Longinotti.

Despite the cancellation of the live card, Oaklawn will be open for simulcasting and gaming on Friday. The track has moved its opening-day feature, the $75,000 Fifth Season, to Sunday, said Longinotti.

Oaklawn lost four days of racing last year due to the weather. This year’s opening weekend is scheduled to extend through the Monday holiday.