01/14/2011 6:26PM

Oaklawn track opens for training; meet expected to begin Saturday

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Oaklawn Park was able to open its track for training for the first time since last Sunday late Friday afternoon, and plans to race as scheduled on Saturday.

The track was forced to cancel its opening-day card on Friday.

A snowstorm blew into Hot Springs late Sunday and forced the cancellation of training from Monday through Thursday. The track opened just before 4 p.m. Central on Friday, and about 20 horses were training in the first set. Maintenance crews had been harrowing the track since 8:30 a.m. Central.

“I don’t know how many horses we’ll have on it this late, but we promised to do everything we could to get open,” David Longinotti, the assistant general manager of racing for Oaklawn, said about a half-hour before the track opened Friday.

Longinotti said he looks for Oaklawn to offer regular training hours Saturday morning, from 7 to 10:30 a.m. He said temperatures were not expected to dip below freezing Friday night, which had been the problem earlier in the week. The forecast for Saturday is a high of 47 degrees. It was 42 degrees in Hot Springs late Friday afternoon. The overnight low is forecast to be 35.

The initial goal Friday was to open for training at noon, but cloud cover slowed the thawing process and delayed the track’s opening. As of late morning, water was visible in some areas of the track. There were also some clods. The extended harrowing helped to aerate and dry out the track, breaking up the clods.

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.