02/08/2011 2:47PM

Weather still the biggest news story at Oaklawn


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Somebody from Oaklawn Park must have said the wrong thing to Mother Nature.

There has not been a whole lot of racing going on at Oaklawn since the season opened a day later than scheduled because of inclement weather on Jan. 15. The track has lost six of its first 16 dates, with the most severe hit coming last week, when Oaklawn was forced to call off four consecutive days, from Thursday through Sunday.

And there could be more problems this week, as forecasters were calling for six to eight inches of snow in Hot Springs on Wednesday. The overnight low was predicted at 16 degrees, and if the forecast becomes a reality many horsemen feel Oaklawn will be hard-pressed to race Thursday. Some even believe Friday’s card could be in jeopardy because Thursday’s overnight low is forecast to be 18 degrees.

“Thursday obviously is the biggest day in question,” Oaklawn official David Longinotti said Tuesday. “But looking at the forecast, I’m looking at a lot of sun Thursday. It’s going to get cold Thursday night, but there’s a lot of sun on Friday. We’ll do everything we can to get in Friday.”

Longinotti said officials want first to see what happens with the weather before making any decision on Thursday’s program.

“We want to see if we get the snow,” he said. “And there’s a lot of differing opinions out there just how likely we are to dip. But we want to wait and see.

“We’re hopeful maybe the snow will miss us.”

Mother Nature threw something of a perfect storm at Oaklawn last week. More than three inches of rain hit last Tuesday, and the temperature dropped into the teens that night, and the track was left frozen solid. A snowstorm then hit Friday morning, wiping out what little hope there was to race Saturday or Sunday.

“We were kind of in the same boat we were in opening weekend, when we lost a day,” Longinotti said. “But this past week, it hit a little bit quicker and got a little bit colder and stayed a little bit colder.”

Oaklawn was able to open for training on Sunday, and again on Monday and Tuesday after missing last Wednesday through Saturday. Longinotti said there are no current plans to make up the lost race dates, but an additional race was added to the program on Thursday, and that will continue to be the trend this meet at Oaklawn.

“We’ll be able to add races from here on out,” Longinotti said. “We’ll run a minimum of 10 races a day every day from now until we get to the end of the meet, when we generally go to 11 or even 12 races.”

The $100,000 Essex for 4-year-olds and up was among the cancellations last weekend. The 1 1/16-mile handicap will be brought back for Sunday, said Longinotti. In addition, the $7,969 pick six carryover that was in place for the Feb. 3 card rolls over to Thursday.

As for patrons who had reservations for last week’s races, Longinotti said Oaklawn is working with those customers as far as getting them rainchecks for another live date.

The lost dates this meet have already equaled a season-high number for Oaklawn. The track also had to scrap six cards in 2003, 1989, 1979, and 1960. Oaklawn, which lost four dates last year and ended up racing 50 cards, was originally scheduled to run 56 dates in 2011.

The meet continues through April 16.

Northern Giant class of feature

Northern Giant, the runner-up in last year’s Grade 2 Lane’s End at Turfway, will be dropping from stakes company for the featured ninth race Thursday at Oaklawn. The $35,000 optional claimer has second-level allowance conditions. It will be run over a mile and drew a field of eight older horses, including recent allowance winner Sky’s the Limit.

Northern Giant was fourth last out in the $75,000 Fifth Season at Oaklawn. Win Willy won that race by a neck over Stachys, and those two horses, as well as the race’s third-place finisher, Kate’s Main Man, are all expected to run back Sunday in the Essex.