01/08/2015 10:53AM

Oaklawn cancels opening weekend due to cold

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Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., has canceled opening weekend due to freezing temperatures, the track announced Thursday morning. Oaklawn was to open on Friday and race Saturday and Sunday. The new opening date has been set for Thursday, Jan. 15.

Oaklawn made an early decision to cancel the opening weekend as a convenience to patrons and horsemen, said Jennifer Hoyt, a spokeswoman for the track. She said officials inspected the track surface and spoke with horsemen early Thursday morning, when it was 9 degrees in Hot Springs.

"Our track maintenance crews worked to maintain the racing surface all night,” David Longinotti, director of racing for Oaklawn. "It became clear shortly after sunrise that we were not going to be able to hold it. The safety of the horses and riders is always our first concern, and this weather is just not conductive for racing. We look forward to kicking off things next week."

With more Arctic temperatures forecast, the decision was made to call off the opener. Hoyt said factors were the safety of jockeys and riders. She said the Thursday opener next week will be the first Thursday opening day in the history of Oaklawn.

It was sunny and 17 degrees mid-morning Thursday at Oaklawn, as tractors were working the surface. The hope is the track can open for training at 1 p.m. Central Thursday.  

Oaklawn has rescheduled the $100,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs for next Thursday, Jan. 15, said Hoyt. The $100,000 Fifth Season for older horses at 1 1/16 miles will now be run next Friday, Jan. 16. 

The forecast for the rest of the week calls for highs in the mid-30s, with overnight lows ranging from 17 to 28 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.