01/13/2012 8:20PM

Oaklawn Park: Close finishes order of the day as meet begins

Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park
Color Me Blue wins the opening-day Fifth Season under jockey Israel Ocampo.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A series of tight finishes gave Oaklawn Park’s opening-day crowd of 18,087 lots to cheer about Friday, and the trend carried right through to the feature race when Color Me Blue found room along the inside and forged to a neck win over Twice in the Appeal in the $75,000 Fifth Season.

“I got a little scared at the end,” said winning trainer Brian Williamson.

Color Me Blue ($13.40) raced about eight lengths back through the early stages of the Fifth Season, advanced along the rail on the turn, and once he found room went on to cover the mile and a sixteenth for 4-year-olds and up in 1:45.62.

“I was waiting for a hole to open up and we got lucky and it opened up,” said Israel Ocampo, who rode Color Me Blue for Reineman Stable.

It Happened Again, the 9-10 favorite, finished third, a length behind Twice the Appeal, who had taken the lead in the upper stretch while making his first start since having finished 10th in last year's Kentucky Derby.

The Fifth Season was the third photo finish on the card. In the third race, there was a dead heat between Cal Dela Casa ($7.20) and Trading Paint ($4.20). The program opened with Run Mama Beare Run ($14.20) scoring by a neck. In the process, she gave her rider, 10-pound apprentice Alex Canchari, the first win of his career. It came in his 17th start, and the 18-year-old Minnesota native padded his stats a little later in the afternoon when he won the sixth race with 37-1 shot Simply Gone.

Canchari rode the winner for trainer Allen Milligan.

“He’s got a good seat on a horse, gets along good with them, and he’s a hard worker,” Milligan said. “He’s worked some horses for me, looks real good on them. I was very impressed with him.”

Simply Gone ($76.80) was one of two winners on the card for Milligan, who is a past training champion at Oaklawn. He spent winters in Hot Springs as a child as the son of trainer Eddie Milligan Sr., the late horseman who was a regular at Oaklawn.

“It’s very special,” Milligan said of winning on opening day at Oaklawn. “I love this place. It was a great crowd, great racing and just good racing fans. They love horse racing in Hot Springs.”

Patrons began filling up the grandstand more than an hour before post for the first race. It was sunny and in the 40s, and the apron was heavily populated as the first race approached. The crowd was so enthusiastic and loud when the gate opened for the first race of 2012, they actually drowned out the first few words from new announcer Frank Mirahmadi.