Updated on 09/17/2011 9:47AM

Opener delayed one week


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Oaklawn Park, which had been scheduled to begin its 55-day meet on Friday, has canceled its opening weekend because of a frozen racing surface. Oaklawn, which will be open for simulcasting, will now start its meet a week later, on Jan. 31.

The three-day cancellation is the first since 1997, when the first four days of the meet were lost to freezing temperatures. Last year, two days were lost to snow.

Oaklawn announced the cancellation Thursday morning after crews spent the night working the track. Oaklawn, which is located in a national park, does not use chemicals to help winterize its surface.

"Our track crew did everything they could to hold the track," said Eric Jackson, general manager of Oaklawn. "But, with the wind chill down below zero degrees, the track pushed our equipment out of the ground at around 3:30 a.m.

"We worked various types of harrows on the ground until 5:30 a.m., but all we were getting were clods that contained a lot of water, which meant that they were going to freeze up under the circumstances."

Oaklawn announced the weekend cancellation early to give patrons and horsemen plenty of notice, as many people drive long distances to attend the Oaklawn races and stay in town over the weekend. Officials did not take entries for Saturday's races on Thursday, but said the scheduled feature for that card, the $50,000 Mountain Valley for 3-year-olds, would now be run on Sunday, Feb. 2.

The $50,000 Dixie Belle, which was the feature on Friday's nine-race opening day card, will instead be run Jan. 31. Nominations remain closed for both races, and horses will need to be re-entered for the Dixie Belle.

Oaklawn also plans to run one additional overnight race on Friday, Feb. 1, and Sunday, Feb. 2, which will make for a 10-race card each day during opening weekend.

The cancellation was not a surprise to some horsemen, because freezing temperatures for Friday were forecast as early as Wednesday.

"I think it was a wise decision," said trainer Chuck Turco. "It's fair to the fans. They can make plans to come another time. It's going to be terrible cold this weekend. Plus, you have Super Bowl Sunday."

The temperature on Thursday morning at Oaklawn was about 18 degrees, and was expected to drop to 13 overnight.