01/20/2006 12:00AM

Opening day draws 21,913


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - For years the tote board here has flashed a message that "the sun always shines at Oaklawn Park," and it did indeed come out for a brief while on a warm and overcast Friday, about the time the second race broke from the starting gate during the track's opening day card.

A packed apron watched as Swift Trieste edged Silly's Brother in a photo finish that took several minutes for officials to decipher. When the results were known, a roar rose up from the apron that few tracks hear during a weekday program.

That is Oaklawn. Big crowds, big interest in horses, and sitting on another big meet after an opening day crowd of 21,913. Total all-sources handle on Oaklawn's nine live races was $4,251,229. Last year, attendance was 22,831 and handle was $4,043,065 for a 10-race card.

"One thing about this track, it's upbeat," said Kathy Moore, racing manager for Frank Fletcher and a former jockey who has been coming to Oaklawn since 1975. "Everyone from town comes. I like that."

"It's great," said trainer Neil Howard, spending his first opening day at Oaklawn in at least 10 years. "It's nice to see the people out and the enthusiasm. That's what it's all about."

Howard, based here because Hurricane Katrina hit his usual winter base, Fair Grounds, struck in the seventh race with Brilliant, a 3-year-old son of War Chant who stormed to an impressive maiden win under Robby Albarado.

Another impressive 3-year-old maiden winner came earlier on the card, when Jolted and Jostled, the first foal from Grade 1 winner Jostle, won his maiden in his two-turn debut. Trained by John Servis, who also managed Jostle, Jolted and Jostled was ridden by Stewart Elliott.

The biggest purse for 3-year-olds on the card went to Celluloid Hero ($35.40), who rallied up the rail in the final sixteenth to win the $50,000 Dixieland by a half-length over Urban Guy. The 5 1/2-furlong race was the opening day feature.

Seth Martinez rode the winner for trainer Mac Robertson.

Carl and Lydia Hickey traveled to Oaklawn from San Antonio. It was the first visit to the track for Lydia.

"The corned beef sandwiches are good," she said.

Oaklawn is running a promotion over opening weekend offering corned beef sandwiches for 50 cents. At the new Daily Double Deli on the first floor of the grandstand, the line was 15 to 20 deep to capitalize on the deal.

* Because of a tote error, incorrect payoffs for the first race were posted temporarily on Friday. The correct payouts were made to customers, said Bobby Geiger, mutuels manager for Oaklawn. Precocious Kat won the race and paid $4.80, although the original price posted was $5.80.