HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (KTHV) - A week before the start of the 2018 racing season at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, horses and handymen are busy all around the track while many of the women took a time out.
The grandstand is largely empty, but the racetrack is filled with traffic as horses train in the afternoon to avoid frigid early-morning temperatures.
“Oh everybody is getting ready,” said trainer Tim Martin. “You're hearing about it all over town.”
The chapel on the backstretch invited all the women in racing to come for a "filly feed."
“[Racing] is a man's world and it's a dangerous sport in all aspects,” said Robi Heffington, who serves as a chaplain to the hundreds of workers who care for the horses stabled at Oaklawn. “Their jobs are hard, so we want to be able to let them be girls for a couple of hours.”
The ladies-only event included free food, jewelry and goodie bags. About 75 people squeezed it in between “sets” of horses exercising on the track.
Cold weather had kept the horses cooped up for several days, so Friday’s afternoon training session was full of energy.
“We're trying to get them all ready,” said Martin, who lives in Hot Springs year-round and ships horses all across the region. “It's been kind of a cold spell for a few days so we're getting pretty busy now trying to get a last breeze in some of them before they run.”
Now that he can focus his attention on his hometown track, Martin says you can feel the build-up in the city.
“I've seen people today asking "when's Oaklawn,” he said. "They want to know when it starts and then they’re like ‘We'll be there. We'll be there.’ There’s lots of people that are ready for this time of the year.”
Martin and his fellow horsemen will focus on the weather forecast, which looks positive for now without calls for rain or winter precipitation.
Trainers will enter their opening day runners on Monday.
The first race is set for 12:30 p.m. Friday, January 12.
Weather permitting, the track has 57 days of racing on the calendar through Arkansas Derby Day in April.
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