Compiled by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.
Formerly known as Oaklawn Park Race Track, the now-named Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort is a Thoroughbred racetrack and casino in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
In March 2019, Oaklawn officially changed its name, adding a full-service casino, as well as sports betting. Oaklawn’s President Louis Cella announced a $100 million expansion in November 2018, with construction beginning in May 2019. The expansion includes 28,000 square feet of additional gaming space, a 200-room luxury hotel with pool, spa and fitness center, and a 14,000 square foot multi-purpose entertainment center.
Live horseracing begins the last weekends in January: 24-26 and 31, 2020. The 57-day live racing season that begins Friday, Jan. 24 continues through Saturday, May 2.
Four $1 million stakes races highlight Oaklawn’s 2020 stakes schedule – the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2), $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1). For a complete list of the 2020 stakes schedule, visit: https://www.oaklawn.com/racing/2020-stakes-schedule/
Oaklawn’s 3-year-old program for colts and geldings begins opening day, Jan. 24, with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and culminates closing day, May 2, with the $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational. In between, are the $750,000 Southwest Stakes, the Presidents’ Day Monday feature, the Rebel Stakes March 14, and the Arkansas Derby April 11.
For the first time in Oaklawn history, the Racing Festival of the South continues past the Arkansas Derby and will conclude the following Saturday, April 18, with the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap, for 4-year-olds and up, and the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap, for older fillies and mares.
Where does Oaklawn stand in its record of racehorse injuries? According to a New York Times analysis in 2012 of the frequency of breakdowns or injuries at 62 tracks around the country with data from more than 150,000 race results from 2009 through 2011, Oaklawn’srate was a low 3.2, below the average of 5.2 of all tracks.
However, Oaklawn does not report racehorse injuries and/or deaths to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. The Paulick Report had reported in 2013 that Oaklawn was setting up an injury database for horses racing at that year’s meet. However, it is not known if Oaklawn still maintains a yearly injury database or where it is housed.
An April 2017 article in the Paulick Report stated that under the four generations of the Cella family who have operated the track for more than 100 years, Oaklawn has been an innovator and a strong, significant player on the national scene. However, then-owner Charles Cella, who died in December 2017, “was openly critical of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association during its formative years and has never been a full member. The track is not accredited with the NTRA’s Safety and Integrity Alliance. Neither the track nor the Arkansas Racing Commission supply information to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database.”
The article goes on to state “some owners and trainers had expressed outrage over the lax regulations” at Oaklawn Park. In March 2017, “Oaklawn Park began random testing for TCO2 levels to determine whether horsemen were engaging in bicarbonate loading – otherwise known as milkshaking – to reduce lactic acid buildup and allow tired horses to ‘re-break’ at the top of the stretch,” according to the Paulick Report.
In December 2017, Louis A. Cella, whose family founded the Oaklawn Jockey Club in 1904, was named President of the Hot Springs, AR racetrack and gaming facility (Oaklawn), as well as Southwestern Enterprises, Inc., the parent company of Oaklawn. He succeeded his father, Charles J. Cella.
Earlier in 2017, Cella became the third generation of his family to serve on the Board of Directors of the Thoroughbred Racing Association (TRA). His grandfather, John G. Cella, served as President of the organization from 1959 – 1960 and his father, Oaklawn President Charles J. Cella, served as President from 1975 – 1976. In late August, Louis was elected to The Jockey Club.
According to the website Horse Racing Wrongs, there were 11 horse deaths at Oaklawn Park in 2019.
Thunder Bye, Jan. 24, “humerus fracture”
Blue Anchor, Jan. 27, “fractured carpus/knee”
Luna de Rojo, Feb. 3, “catastrophic training injury”
Vision, Feb. 13, “euthanized” no details
Could Be Game, Feb. 16, “euthanized” no details
Zuba Ziba, Feb. 28, “euthanized” no details
Macer. Mar. 2, “euthanized” no details
My Mystery, Mar. 7, “euthanized” no details
Justlikesister Ray, Mar. 8, “euthanized” no details
Magnolia Petal, Mar. 24, “euthanized” no details
Bad Humor, Apr. 4, “euthanized” no details
The Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC), under the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, regulates Thoroughbred and Greyhound racing in the State of Arkansas. The ARC held a public hearing on December 19, 2019 to consider the adoption of several rule changes regarding Thoroughbred Racing, but none of them concerned drugs. See https://www.dfa.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/NoticeOfPublicHearing_RacingCommission.pdf
For more information, visit: http://jockeyclub.com/default.asp?section=Advocacy&area=10 and https://www.dfa.arkansas.gov/racing-commission/thoroughbreds/
Barger, Kaitlin. 2019. “Oaklawn Officially Changes Name to Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.” KATV. March 28. https://katv.com/news/local/oaklawn-officially-changes-name-to-oaklawn-racing-casino-resort
Staff report. 2019. “Oaklawn Changes Name to Include Casino for First Time.” The Sentinel-Record. March 29. https://www.hotsr.com/news/2019/mar/29/oaklawn-changes-name-to-include-casino-/
Reed, Beth. 2019. “Construction Underway at Oaklawn.” The Sentinel-Record. May 11. https://www.hotsr.com/news/2019/may/11/construction-underway-at-oaklawn-201905/
Paulilck, Ray. 2017. “New Drug Testing Protocols Making a Difference At Oaklawn Park?” The Paulick Report. April 12. https://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/new-drug-testing-protocols-making-difference-oaklawn-park/
Paulick Report Staff. 2013. “Oaklawn Park Setting Up injury Database for Horse Racing at Meet.” The Paulick Report. Jan. 10. https://www.paulickreport.com/news/the-biz/oaklawn-park-setting-up-injury-database-for-horses-racing-at-meet/
Oaklawn News. 2017. “Louis Cella Named President of the Oaklawn Jockey Club. Dec. 20. https://www.oaklawn.com/news/2017/dec/20/louis-cella-named-president-oaklawn-jockey-club/
Horseracing Wrongs. https://horseracingwrongs.org/killed-2019/
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