01/14/2011 3:20PM

Oaklawn to open for training Friday afternoon; officials confident track will race Saturday

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Oaklawn Park officials are hopeful the racing surface, which has been closed since Monday due to freezing temperatures, will be reopened for training Friday afternoon. The track was forced to cancel Friday’s opening day card, but are confident they will race on Saturday.

“We’re a 100 percent go for Saturday,” said David Longinotti, assistant general manager of racing for Oaklawn. “There’s not a weather forecast that I’ve seen that causes me any concern.”

Oaklawn was hit with more than five inches of snow on Sunday, and with temperatures dipping into the teens overnight for consecutive days, the track has been closed all week. But maintenance crews were able to begin harrowing the surface at about 8:30 a.m. on Friday, said Longinotti, and were hopeful to be able to open it up to horses by mid-afternoon.

The initial goal was to open for training at noon, but cloud cover in the area delayed those projections. The sun eventually came out in full force after 11 a.m. Central. Oaklawn’s surface was in the thawing process late morning, with water more visible in some areas of the track than others. There were also some clods. The extended harrowing is being done to create a safe surface, by aerating, or drying out the track, establishing its cushion, and breaking up the clods.

“We won’t allow the horses on the track until we’re confident it’s a safe track,” said Longinotti.

Many horsemen went ahead and walked their horses under tack in their shed rows on Friday morning, but said they expected Oaklawn would be racing on Saturday.

A number of southern states have been hit with significant winter weather this past week. Fair Grounds in New Orleans was forced to cancel its card on Thursday. Louisiana Downs near Shreveport, which is running a meet for Quarter Horses, got hit with sleet and snow Sunday and was forced to cancel its cards on Monday and Tuesday.