HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (KTHV) -- It won't be long before we'll be hearing "riders up" and "they're at the post!" Horseracing begins this week at Oaklawn. Right now, the tellers, the jockeys, and the horses are getting ready for opening day. All weekend long, anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 people are expected to attend.
“To be able to hear the crowd scream and holler and root, there's nothing like it," said Alex Birzer, a jockey who has raced at Oaklawn for nearly 17 years. “I'll ride a thousand races every year and there is nothing like coming to Oaklawn and getting to the top lane and hearing the crowd. You will not go anywhere else and get to the top lane and hear the crowd."
During the week of opening day, there’s preparation underway. Monday, the race schedules were drawn for Friday's races.
"We averaging over 10 horse per field for opening day, we're always pleased about that," said David Longinotti, Oaklawn's director of racing.
Oaklawn has a new system for tellers for the first time in 60 years, new big screen TV's, new displays, a 14 horse field, a higher show bet bonus pay off and a new racing announcer, Victor Stauffer.
“Humbling, a great treat," said Stauffer on his new role. “It's the major leagues, the best horses in the world race here, and that’s what drew me along with the people of Hot Springs."
Without cancelations, Oaklawn will host 525 races this season. The horses will race, the bets will be made, and new goals hopefully achieved. Birzer is just 17 wins away from 3,000 wins.
“We're real close, real close," said Birzer. “You never know how this meet’s going to go so hopefully we can get it here."
The much anticipated opening weekend is ready for patrons.
“We've got three stake races on the four days, our 50 cent corn beef promotion on Saturday," said Longinotti.
Oaklawn staff, horses, and jockeys alike are ready to get it underway.
“After you get through the first opening day, you can just show up and ride” said Birzer.
On opening day Friday, gates open at 11 a.m. and races start at 12:30. There'll be 57 days of racing culminating in the Arkansas Derby on April 15.
For a complete schedule, visit Oaklawn's website.