02/06/2003 12:00AM

Weather closes Oaklawn again

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - An overnight snowstorm forced Oaklawn Park to cancel live racing on Thursday, the fourth time the track has had to scrap a program this meet because of weather. The first three days of the season were pushed back a week because of a frozen track, so instead of the scheduled Jan. 24 start this year, the meet began Jan. 31.

At least two inches of snow fell overnight Wednesday, and just before 8 a.m. Central on Thursday, officials decided to call off both training and the live racing program. It snowed on and off through the afternoon Thursday, but racing was expected to resume Friday.

"We have a situation where the combination of all the moisture from two to three inches of snow, plus the prediction for sub-freezing temperatures over the next couple of nights, puts us at risk for losing a number of days of racing, should we push to race today," Oaklawn general manager Eric Jackson said Thursday.

"We have a good seal on the racing surface right now, and would have to open that seal and let in all that water to race. Once the water is in the track, the freezing temperatures of the next couple nights would make it virtually impossible for us to race over the weekend, which is when the overwhelming number of fans can get here to enjoy the sport."

Forecasters were calling for sunny skies and a high of 39 degrees on Friday, with the temperature expected to dip to 22 overnight. Sunny skies and a temperature in the upper 40's are forecast for Saturday, with overnight lows in the upper 20's.

Officials said some roads leading to Oaklawn were frozen, which was another reason for the decision to cancel the card.

Racing secretary Pat Pope said he brought back two races from the canceled Thursday card for Saturday, including an entry-level allowance. The additions will make for an 11-race card on Saturday.

Oaklawn lost two days of racing last year to inclement weather, including a Wednesday card a year ago this week because of a snowstorm. The cancellations last year were the first since 1997.