01/16/2007 12:00AM

Oaklawn gears up to open

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The winter storm that has gripped the nation led to some freezing temperatures overnight at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., on Monday, but forecasters are calling for warmer weather for the track's opening weekend, which starts with a nine-race card on Friday.

"We should be able to get open okay," said Terry Wallace, spokesperson for Oaklawn.

Wallace said 6.3 inches of rain had fallen in Hot Springs over the past few days. There was no training on Tuesday after temperatures fell into the 20's overnight Monday, but the forecast for Friday is for cloudy skies and a high of 44 degrees, while the high for Saturday is forecast to be 47.

Entries for the opener were taken on Tuesday. There are 90 horses on the program, with 13 set to start in the featured eighth race, the $50,000 Dixieland. The 5o1/2-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds is led by Officer Rocket, dead-heat winner of the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity in September.

Other stakes winners in the field are Go Poppa Fooze, Sir Five Star, Speedway, Tortuga Straits, Tricky's Tick Tock, and Hadacure.

In the sixth race, Mindy, a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Real Cozzy, will make her career debut in a one-mile maiden race for 3-year-old fillies. She is a daughter of A.P. Indy.

"I'm hoping she's going to run to her pedigree," said her trainer, Dan Peitz. "She's a beautiful filly."

Oaklawn will have a new entry schedule this meet. In the past, the track had operated on a 48-hour entry schedule for most race days, but this meet entries are to be taken at least 72 hours in advance, with a couple of programs a week drawn 96 hours out.

The change was made pursuant to a request by the Arkansas Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said Pat Pope, racing secretary at Oaklawn. Pope said the HBPA thinks the new entry schedule will make it more convenient for owners and for those who are following certain horses.

"We went back and kicked it around and said 'We'd sure try it,' " Pope said. "So, we're trying it this year.

"We feel that not only is that a benefit to the owners that come watch their horses run, it's a benefit for trainers that are in another jurisdiction. You give them plenty of time to set up transportation to get here."

Oaklawn's stable area was near capacity on Tuesday, with more than 1,300 horses on the grounds.