01/07/2014 4:36PM

Oaklawn Park: Large fields, warm weather for opening day

Coady Photography
Oaklawn Park's nine-race Friday card drew 89 entries, just under 10 horses per race.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Oaklawn Park took entries for Friday’s season opener Tuesday, and despite a frigid blast that interrupted training earlier in the week, fields are large for the first card of the meet. There were 89 horses entered in nine races, for an average of 9.8 starters a race. The feature is the $100,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-old fillies, which goes with a field of nine, including Mountaineer Park stakes winner Silver Valley.

Oaklawn was unable to open its track for training Monday due to sub-teen temperatures. Most horses either walked the shed row or jogged under tack, like Will Take Charge, a chief candidate for 3-year-old champion settled in at Oaklawn. Temperatures on Tuesday were warmer, rising above freezing after lunch. Tractors worked the surface into the early afternoon hours, and horses were able to get onto the track at 1 p.m. Central.

Despite the disruption to training, the forecast for opening weekend is accommodating. The highs should be in the mid-50s, while there is a 30 percent chance of showers. The weather is even more agreeable for Saturday, with temperatures approaching 60 degrees. Oaklawn’s three-day opening weekend extends to Sunday.

Oaklawn moved to a new entry schedule in the latter part of the meet last season and will keep the schedule this year at the request of horsemen, said Pat Pope, the track’s racing secretary. Oaklawn plans to draw cards at least 72 hours in advance of race day.

Highlights of the meet’s first card include the Dixie Belle, a six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies. Silver Valley should start as one of the top choices in a field that also includes Street Story, who was stakes-placed last month at Fair Grounds.

Jockey Calvin Borel, the Hall of Famer who had been sidelined by a fractured fibula sustained in a Keeneland spill Oct. 23, will return to the saddle for the first time Friday. He will ride More Than Beauty in the Dixie Belle for his brother, trainer Cecil Borel. He also has calls in three other races.

Borel is part of a diverse riding colony that includes defending champ Ricardo Santana, Jr., as well as Jon Court, Eurico Da Silva, Channing Hill, John McKee, Luis Quinonez, Jeremy Rose, Francisco Torres, and Ramon Vazquez.

Other highlights of the opening card include the fifth race, a maiden special weight for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, and the ninth, a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds at a mile.

First post Friday is 1:05 p.m. Central.