01/17/2006 12:00AM

Works pick up as opener nears


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A snow flurry or two after the track renovation break on Tuesday morning did little to curtail morning activities at Oaklawn Park, where horses are preparing for the track's 56-date meet that will open Friday.

Among the 90 horses on the work tab were promising 3-year-olds Catonight, the Sugar Bowl Stakes winner who went four furlongs in 49.80 seconds for trainer Steve Asmussen, and Music School, a close relative of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft who went six furlongs in 1:16.60.

Neil Howard trains Music School. Howard is one of many Fair Grounds regulars who will be based this winter at Oaklawn after Fair Grounds was forced to run an abbreviated meet at Louisiana Downs this year because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. That group also includes Tom Amoss, Bobby Barnett, Bret Calhoun, Al Stall Jr., and Ronny Werner.

"We've got a lot of stables, some of them who used to race here and have come back," said Bob Holthus, a nine-time training champ at Oaklawn. "I think you'll see very competitive races."

"It's going to be a fight to win purses," said Dave Hulkewicz, an Oaklawn regular and owner of Grade 2 winner Beau's Town.

Pat Pope, Oaklawn's racing secretary, said there were more than 1,250 horses on the grounds Tuesday, and he expects the track's 1,500 stalls to be filled shortly after the close of the Fair Grounds meet Sunday. Oaklawn will also draw entries from a pool of horses at Louisiana Downs, which will remain open for training after the meet concludes. Pope said that according to a recent conversation he had with Fair Grounds racing secretary Ben Huffman the connections of 800 to 1,000 horses have asked to winter at Louisiana Downs.

Tuesday, the weather in Hot Springs became colder as the morning went on, but the sun was shining by noon and the forecast looked promising for opening weekend. In fact, this has been a mild winter for Hot Springs.-

"This is just the second little snow flurry I've seen at all, and I've been here since December," said trainer Sonny Wigginton.

Forecasters call for a high of 65 degrees Friday, with a 30 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. The opening-day feature is the $50,000 Dixieland for 3-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs. Among those expected to be entered are Catonight; Corredor de Plata, trained by Cole Norman; Fidrych, trained by John Servis; and Out Our Way, trained by Steve Wren.