HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (KTHV) - The opening day of racing at Oaklawn is just under two months away. Rows of stables mark where 1,500 horses will make their home for four months. Although it's only November, they've already started to move in.
Kenny Smith, owner of Kenny Smith Racing Stables, is the second trainer to arrive at Oaklawn with 20 of his 38 horses early Monday morning.
"It's been a long trip, but we're back home," exclaimed Smith. He and his team made the 20 hour ride from Delaware after riding out Hurricane Sandy at their previous racetrack.
"They hung in there well. At first, they were a little nervous, but they did real well. We got a lot of rain on that side of the hurricane. We probably got seven inches or so, maybe nine in three days," says Smith.
Jennifer Hoyt with Oaklawn media relations said weather in the northeast may have pushed some trainers to head south early, but it's the prize money that has everyone excited.
"Usually it takes a few days. They don't usually come in on opening day," expplained Hoyt. "This year, we are giving away a record $20 million in purses and that includes 32 stake races that we will have this year."
"It had a lot to do with me coming earlier. Usually, I come in first week of December. This year, we come in early part of November just for the meet, for the huge purses," said Smith.
Those are huge purses Smith hopes to win with the help of some of the fastest horses on the track, including Reckless Jerry, a horse owned by country music superstar, Toby Keith. Smith says Reckless Jerry came in second place in the Smarty Jones Stakes earlier this year
"I brought Reckless Jerry back with me, and he's been on a layoff, but he'll be ready sometime in February," Smith told THV 11.
It is an early start to a season race fans are ready for.
"The opening of Oaklawn is always like a holiday here in Hot Springs, so when people start seeing the horse vans and seeing the horses on the track, it really gets them excited early," said Smith.
Oaklawn expects more horses to flood their stables towards the first of December. They said many of them will come from the Church Hill Downs track in Kentucky and Remington Park in Oklahoma City.
Racing officially begins Friday, January 11th and goes through Sunday, April 13th. You can start reserving your seats on Monday, November 19th by calling 1-800-Oaklawn.
Oaklawn will offer five stakes races over its four-day opening weekend, starting with the $75,000 Fifth Season on opening day. The 56-day meet culminates on April 13 with the $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.