HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas — On a windy November day, our own Ashley King toured the stables of Oaklawn as owners, trainers and vets prepare for opening day on December 3.
While there we found the perfect tour guide in 9-year-old Lacey. “They say I’m famous at school all the time because they can look me up on the internet and they’ll pick up pictures of me and my mom and the horses."
Lacey's mom is Kelsi Harr, a female jockey. Harr was a leading apprentice jockey at Oaklawn in 2020 with nine wins.
“My mom being a jockey is just like amazing," Lacey said. "I love that she followed her dream and I want to be exactly like her."
“I like to be an inspiration to those little girls to know that they can do whatever they want to and not to let any man tell them they can't," Harr told us with a smile.
A man who likely has a tough time telling either Lacey or Harr that they can't do something is Robert Cline. He's a Hot Springs native who started out as an exercise rider and is now a trainer with 18 horses at Oaklawn. To Lacey, he's just dad.
With horse racing as the family business, the stakes are high. As the purses increase, so can the pressure.
“I’m not going to let him lie and say we hadn’t went to bed upset a few times. We try to make the rule that we don’t go to bed angry. But there’s been a few times that we had to say, well, that’s it," Harr said.
“It’s fun this way, for sure. There are some silent moments driving home for sure," Cline said. "I’d hate to admit it but sometimes it’s as much my fault as it is hers when the horse doesn’t perform. You know, she can only ride what she’s in. It’s hard to outrun a Ferrari in a Pinto."
Possibly the closest thing to a Ferrari that you'll find in their stable goes by the name of Bandit Point. He's placed in several Arkansas-bred stakes.
“He’s been around longer than anybody in the barn. And I won my first race on him that I ever rode. I’ve ridden in all of the stakes races and most of the ones I rode have been on him. He’s my favorite. And I’m ready to ride him," Harr said.
And she has to be ready! Oaklawn opens on December 3 for a 66-day season. It's a historic move for the 117-year-old park that has come with plenty of praise.
"We get to chase money a little earlier. Usually, we’re setting idle and I’m spending money from September to the end of January and now I get the chance to start making money back in December," said Cline.