By Bear State Bank

And They’re Off!

Oaklawn Bucks the Odds with Quality Horses and Growing Purses.


By Sara Dacus
Photo credit: Coady Photography

Residents of the Bear State looking for a diversion during the cold winter months and into the spring have the option of enjoying world-class thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. The season opens January 12 and runs through April 14. During this time, people from all over the south and beyond will come to Oaklawn to witness racing at its highest level.

A list of horses that have run at Oaklawn reads like a who’s who of racing.  American Pharoah started his Triple Crown year in Hot Springs. Zenyatta, Smarty Jones, Rachel Alexandra, Cigar and Curlin are other champions who are part of Oaklawn’s rich tradition. Since 2004, horses that prepped at Oaklawn finished first, second or third in Triple Crown races 36 times.

For the 2018 season the track raised purses for the 10th consecutive year with $30 million projected to be distributed, which is among the country’s highest purse structure for this time of year. The purses and the stakes schedule have attracted newcomers to Oaklawn like two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.

Photo credit: Coady Photography

“I chose Oaklawn because of the quality racing, quality horses, quality people and quality purses and a possible Derby horse,” Stevens said.

This year, fans will be greeted at the track by the American Pharoah Gardens, which showcase a life-size bronze statue of the 2015 Arkansas Derby and Triple Crown winner. They were constructed after the 2017 season, along with three new barns in the backstretch.

Oaklawn strives to make the game enjoyable to fans with all levels of understanding. Horse racing offers a myriad of wagering options, and a bet on a horse to show (a wager that pays if a horse comes in first, second or third) is the easiest bet in racing and the one with the greatest chances of cashing a ticket.  For the second year, the track is reaching out to new fans by offering the Show Bet Bonus, which pays a higher amount to winners on site at Oaklawn. 

The famed corned beef sandwich is a reason to come to the track. Oaklawn’s website, which proclaims the sandwich to be “the best corned beef sandwich in the universe,” also includes this gem: “there are some who come to the track and find that the best experience is simply the corned beef sandwich.”

Oaklawn offers barn tours as part of Dawn at Oaklawn every Saturday morning beginning Feb. 17 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Watch horses train and mingle with owners, trainers and jockeys. No reservations are required.

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Weather permitting, the infield will be open the final five Saturdays of the season, from the Rebel Stakes on March 17 to the Arkansas Derby on April 14. The park-within-a-park will have live music, beer gardens, bounce houses and a petting zoo.

The 57-day meet concludes on Arkansas Derby day, which is the final major prep race for the Kentucky Derby. This is one of the most well-attended race days anywhere in the country, with a crowd of over 60,000 each year.

For more information, visit the track’s website at

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