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Oaklawn opens races in December for first time in history

Oaklawn is back and for the first time ever, Arkansas horseracing fans can witness it during the month of December.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark — Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort did something it's never done – horse racing in the month of December.

It's a change from the norm, but it's one that veteran employees like Inez Hunter are ready for.

"When I woke up this morning, I was really running," she said. "I was trying not to forget anything."

This is a day Hunter knows well. This makes her 40th year working at Oaklawn.

"I started out selling popcorns and hot dogs," she said. "First year, I sold so many popcorns and hotdogs, I said 'I got to do something else,' so I've been doing mutuals now for 40 years."

In her time, she's seen plenty of faces and even more races.

"It's a good feeling and to know they're coming back and remember me. But, everybody remembers me," she said while laughing.

And even though Hunter has been here for four decades now, even she hasn't seen anything like this. December racing was unheard of at Oaklawn until now.

"It's like Christmas in July and I'm happy that we're starting a little early, which is something different. I like it, I really like it," Hunter said. 

She's not alone in this. Ron Moquett trains horses, and has done so for decades.

He said it doesn't matter when the season starts – winning here is what matters.

"People in my industry get excited about coming here. It's like Wrigley Field or Madison Square Garden," Moquett said. "You want to win at Oaklawn. So it's a lot of anticipation and excitement for the start of the meet."

Excitement doesn't change the fact that this is deviates from the norm.

"Well unique thing is we're always here, but we're not having races," Moquett said. "I never thought that we'd get to be running races in December, but I'm very happy we are."

Another person happy to be at Oaklawn early – maybe the most iconic piece besides the horses.

The Bugler, Chris Holt.

"I think it's going to be a great thing for Hot Springs and for Arkansas to be able to open this up during this time period," he said.

So as we head into another season at Oaklawn – albeit a longer one – Hunter said she's ready.

She's already looking forward to her favorite part.

"I'm ready and can't wait for the doors to open so we can get started on the first race," she said. "I would love to be going to the winners circle with my favorite jockey!"