A Preview of the Oaklawn 2019 Meet

I enjoy going to Oaklawn Racing and Gaming on warm, sunny days when it’s nice to be outside watching the horses run. This was not one of those days. It was 39 degrees and the wind was whipping my hair around as I stood just outside the trainers’ stand. But the early morning sun was streaming low across the track and horses are beautiful creatures in any weather. Cold or not, I was excited to be here. It was just before Christmas – over a month before opening day of the 2019 racing season – but 807 horses, nearly half of those expected, were already on the grounds. I’d arrived at 7:30 a.m. to watch them run and discuss some highlights of this 115th year of Oaklawn – a year to go down in the history books for sure.

“There is definitely a buzz in the air going into this season,” said Media Relations Manager Jennifer Hoyt.

Some big announcements have been coming out of Oaklawn in recent months, most notably a $100 million-plus expansion. One of the largest hospitality investments in Arkansas’ history, it will include the construction of a high-rise hotel, an event center, and an expanded gaming area. Work on the project will begin following the completion of the 2019 racing season but there are several exciting things to look forward to this season as well, including three new stakes races and a shift in the 2019 racing schedule…

Oaklawn Racing and Gaming Announce Big Expansion

OAKLAWN ANNOUNCES $100 MILLION-PLUS EXPANSION WITH CONSTRUCTION OF HIGH-RISE HOTEL, EVENT CENTER AND EXPANDED GAMING AREA

Oaklawn Racing and Gaming today announced plans to build an expansion project in excess of $100 million that includes the construction of a high-rise hotel, multi-purpose event center, a larger gaming area, and additional on-site parking.

The project is one of the largest hospitality investments in the history of Arkansas.

“This historic announcement represents a new chapter in the rich 114-year history of Oaklawn,” said Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Jockey Club. “As we enhance the entertainment experience for our customers, we will also further elevate thoroughbred racing and help make Arkansas and Hot Springs even stronger regional tourism destinations.”

The yet-to-be-named hotel will be seven stories with 200 rooms, including two presidential suites. Amenities will include an outdoor swimming pool, a luxury spa, fitness center and restaurant.

“The hotel will offer a unique vantage point for our patrons in that it will overlook the track. Imagine the spectacular view as the horses are heading down the stretch,” said Cella. “Our goal is to achieve 4-star status.”

Adjacent to the hotel will be a 14,000 square-foot multi-purpose events center that will accommodate up to 1,500 people for various events such as concerts, meetings, banquets and weddings.

The project also includes the addition of approximately 28,000 square feet of gaming space and significantly expanded parking.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said the Oaklawn expansion will be monumental.

“The state of Arkansas is grateful to Louis and his family for their commitment to growing their business right here at home,” said Gov. Hutchinson. “This project, which will be financed exclusively with private funds, not only represents one of, if not the largest, tourism related expansion projects in our history, it will also rank among the state’s largest economic development projects in 2019.”

Kane Webb, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, says the Oaklawn expansion will create more success stories for Arkansas’ thriving tourism industry.

“Hot Springs is already one of the top tourism destinations in the South,” said Webb. “This expansion will thrust Hot Springs into the category of the nation’s elite vacation and recreation locations.”

Oaklawn Park new designCella says the development will create new partnership opportunities with the city of Hot Springs in that marketing efforts will be designed to complement those of the city’s. He says while various on-site amenities will be offered, Oaklawn will want guests to enjoy all that Hot Springs has to offer including Hot Springs National Park, lakes, hiking and biking trails, museums, restaurants, shopping and more.

Steve Arrison, CEO of the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, says the events center and hotel rooms will be beneficial to Hot Springs and Arkansas.

“Oaklawn’s project will allow Hot Springs to attract more and larger meetings and conventions,” said Arrison. “This creates exciting opportunities for Hot Springs tourism.”

An expansion project of this magnitude, Cella says, requires years of planning and the development of infrastructure.

“While one may assume that today’s announcement comes in response to the passage of Issue 4 on November 6, we actually began planning for this during our last expansion in 2014,” said Cella. “Our goal then, as it is now, is to use a quality gaming experience to enhance racing and help attract even more great champions to Arkansas such as Smarty Jones, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah.”

Construction on the project will begin in May immediately following completion of the 2019 racing season. The target completion date for the gaming expansion is January 2020 with the hotel and event center to be completed in late 2020.

As it has for two previous Oaklawn projects, HBG Design of Memphis is the architectural firm for this new expansion.

Flintco Construction, with an Arkansas headquarters located in Springdale, is the contractor on the project. The company estimates that as many as 2,300 jobs will be created during the construction phase.

“The Cellas helped found Oaklawn in the early 1900’s,” said Wayne Smith, general manager of Oaklawn. “As they have for more than a century, the family continues to make significant investments in Arkansas. This will be the third major project at Oaklawn since 2008.”

This major expansion represents the second significant announcement at Oaklawn since Louis Cella succeeded his late father, Charles, as president of Oaklawn Jockey Club last December.

In April of this year, Oaklawn announced it will shift its racing season later in the calendar and for the first time will continue racing into May. It’s the biggest change in the traditional Oaklawn racing schedule since World War II.

Oaklawn Park Expansion Project Fact Sheet

About the project:
Oaklawn is investing in excess of $100 million to further elevate thoroughbred racing and make Oaklawn and Hot Springs an even stronger regional tourism destination.
The Oaklawn expansion will be one of the largest hospitality investments in the history of Arkansas.
This is a private investment. No public dollars are being used.
The project will focus on five main areas:
Enhanced racing experience
4-star hotel and spa
Multi-purpose event center
Expanded gaming area
Additional on-site parking
This expansion project has been in the planning stages since 2014.
This will be Oaklawn’s third major construction project since 2008.
About the hotel/multi-purpose event center:
The hotel will be 7 stories tall with 200 luxury rooms, including two presidential suites.
The goal is for the hotel to achieve 4-star status.
The hotel will offer patrons a unique vantage point in that it will overlook the racetrack on one side with a beautiful view of the lakes and mountains on the other.
Room rates will be competitive with other properties of this quality.

The Oaklawn Park hotel will include:
outdoor swimming pool
luxury spa
fitness center
restaurant
multi-purpose event center
individual meeting rooms
The 14,000 square-foot multi-purpose event center will accommodate up to 1,500 people for events ranging from concerts, to meetings, to banquets, to weddings.
Oaklawn is working with the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission to ensure that the multi-purpose event center compliments efforts of the Hot Springs convention center and arena. The partnership will help attract more and larger meetings and conventions to the city.
The project includes expanded on-site parking to accommodate more vehicles.
A shuttle service will be available to transport patrons from their vehicles to the facility. Shuttle stops will be strategically located throughout the parking areas.

About the Oaklawn Park gaming expansion:
The new expansion will add approximately 28,000 square-feet of gaming space.
The enhanced gaming experience will allow Oaklawn to provide larger purses to help attract the top thoroughbreds joining a long line of champions such as Smarty Jones, Zenyatta and American Pharoah.

About the construction:
HBG Design of Memphis is the architectural firm on the project. This will represent the firm’s third expansion design for Oaklawn.
Flintco Construction, with Arkansas headquarters located in Springdale, is the contractor on the project. Flintco has managed major construction projects all over Arkansas.
Construction will begin in May, immediately following the completion of the 2019 racing season.

Target completion dates:
Gaming expansion – January 2020
Hotel and multi-purpose event center – Late 2020

About economic impact:
Oaklawn’s reputation as a year-round tourism destination will be enhanced. Hotel guests will have easy access to Hot Springs National Park, area lakes, hiking and biking trails, museums, amusement parks, and restaurants representing a significant economic impact to the city of Hot Springs and the state of Arkansas.
Flintco estimates that as many as 2,300 construction jobs will be created during the construction phase.
Though a specific number is still under consideration, Oaklawn anticipates several hundred additional jobs will be created in expanded areas.

About the Oaklawn principals:
Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Jockey Club, succeeded his late father, Charles, in December 2017. The Cella family were among the founding partners in Oaklawn in the early 1900s. Louis is a graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Law, past Chairman of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center Foundation, Director of the UAMS Foundation Fund Board and Director of the Myeloma Institute. Louis’ wife, Rochelle Dean, is from England, Arkansas.
Wayne Smith, general manager of Oaklawn, joined the racetrack in 2016 with extensive experience in working with resort properties around the world for ITT-Sheraton, MGM Grand and Caesar’s Entertainment. He also worked for Empire City Racing and Gaming in New York and Penn Gaming in Illinois.

Source: Oaklawn Park

Is Horse Racing Dead? Oaklawn Park Raises Purses Again

Press Release

Purse records keep tumbling at the track with the richest purses in America between January and April.

Starting with the March 17 Rebel Stakes card, Oaklawn will implement the second increase of the season, the 18th straight year the Hot Springs track has bumped purses at least once during a meet. Overnight purses will be bumped between $1,000 and $3,000. Maiden Special Weights and Allowances races are growing by $3,000 per race, taking the Maidens to $81,000 and the Allowances to as high as $85,000.

Logo Oaklawn Park racingAdditionally, claiming races and maiden claiming races with a claiming price of $20,000 or greater as well as starter allowances are receiving a $2,000 increase. Other races are receiving a $1,000 bump.

“We believe Arkansas through Oaklawn may have the best racing-gaming model in America,” said Louis Cella, President of Oaklawn. “Racing will always come first, but thanks to our vibrant gaming business we are able to offer the rich purses that attract the large fields and adds to the excitement our fans get to enjoy. Even with a rainy February, we still treated our guests to a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience.”

The March 17 card was already the second richest of the Oaklawn season with the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for aspiring Derby hopefuls, the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares and $300,000 Essex Handicap for older colts and geldings. With the increase, purses are projected to be more than $2 million this day.

“We’re excited to reward our owners and trainers with the second purse increase of the season,” said Wayne Smith, General Manager of Oaklawn. “Our best races are still to come and we’re looking forward to watching the country’s best 3-year-olds prepare for the Triple Crown races.”

Live racing at Oaklawn continues through Saturday, April 14.

Son of Charles Cella to Lead Oaklawn Park into the Future

Logo Oaklawn Park racingPress Release

Louis A. Cella, whose family founded the Oaklawn Jockey Club in 1904, has been named president of the Hot Springs, Ark., racetrack and gaming facility as well as Southwestern Enterprises, Inc., the parent company of Oaklawn. He succeeds his father, Charles J. Cella.

In addition, John G. Cella has been named president of the family’s Southern Real Estate and Financial Company, Inc., also succeeding his father.

“It is truly an honor to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather,” Louis Cella said. “Racing has been part of the Cella family DNA for generations and we are committed to keeping Oaklawn one of the premiere racetracks in the country for generations to come.”

Earlier this year, 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-’60 and his father, Oaklawn president Charles J. Cella, served as president from 1975-’76. In late August, he was elected to The Jockey Club, which establishes the recommended standards for the industry, along with four other prominent figures in Thoroughbred racing.

“The appointment of Louis Cella as president of the Oaklawn Jockey Club will be welcomed news throughout the racing industry as it continues the legendary involvement of the Cella family,” said James (Ted) Bassett III, a longtime family friend, Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup director and a member of The Jockey Club. “For over a century, four generations of this family have dedicated themselves to maintaining the highest and traditional standards of racing, insuring public trust and the well-being of the horse. For most of his life, Louis has been actively involved in every aspect of racing and with this experience and the Cella family’s commitment to excellence this continues the success of Oaklawn Park for years to come”

Cella, a 1990 graduate of the University of Arkansas Law School, is also vice chairman and director of MUNY, America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theatre. He is past chairman of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center Foundation, director of the UAMS Foundation Fund Board and director of the Myeloma Institute.

He and his wife Rochelle live in Ladue, Mo.. and have two children.

AGOS Claimer of the Week: Cal-bred at Oaklawn Park

Class jumper wins at Oaklawn

Woodmans Luck went from last to first to win the sixth race at Oaklawn Park Thursday afternoon. The California bred has been named the agameofskill.com Claimer of the Week. The chestnut gelding covered the mile in 1:39.10 over a fast track to defeat $50,000 claimers. It was the second win in a row for the Brad Cox trainee, who jumped up from a conditioned $32,000 victory in his last. Ridden by Chris Landeros, Woodmans Luck paid $12.40 to his supporters. Sired by Lucky Pulpit the 8 year old has won nine times and finished in the money (top 3) 31 times from 54 career starts. Owned by Steve Landers Racing, Woodmans Luck has now earned $305,000 in his career.

AGOS Claimer of the Week: Top Dude at Oaklawn Park

Horse Racing Claimer of the Week at AGameofSkill.com Half Dome Dude contested the early proceedings, took command in the stretch and continued on to win the third race at Oaklawn last Friday afternoon. Half Dome Dude has been named the agameofskill.com Claimer of the Week. The victory over $6,250 claimers was the eighth career win for the son of Kela. The Kentucky bred returned $9.20 to his backers once the race was made official. Ridden by Ricardo Santana, the gelding stopped the timer at 1:10.63 for six panels. The 8 year old is trained by Robertino Diodoro and has finished in the money (top three finishers) 24 times from 42 career races. Owned by Randy Howg, Half Dome Dude has now accumulated $194,000 in career earnings.

Rebel Without a Clue

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerby Jude Feld (reprinted with permission our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days at Oaklawn Park and broadcast the Rebel Stakes (G2). It is a beautiful little track, dotted with Bradford pear trees and redbuds and blessed with some of the nicest customer service people on the planet.

The Arkansas fans are loyal to Oaklawn and loyal to their hometown trainers and jockeys. They really enjoy the game and will talk your ear off about it if given the chance. Many of them know one another personally, as almost everyone has, “been comin’ to Oaklawn for years.”

Despite all this charm, I have never bet Oaklawn on a regular basis. My last trip there was in 1983, when I went to saddle Pewter Grey for the Razorback Stakes. Most of my life I have lived on the West Coast and the rest in the Eastern time zone. Central time zone tracks never seem to fit into my busy schedule.

I’m always careful when I go to a track I don’t follow. I love handicapping and I love horseplaying, but it is best when you are at a strange track to temper your enthusiasm for wagering, or at least your wagers, until you get a feel for the place.

Take less money. Remember, you are out of your element. If you were at your home track, you wouldn’t plunk down lots of cash on a first-time starter from an obscure barn, being ridden by a jock you’ve never heard of. If you don’t regularly play the track you are visiting, every bet is just like that. If you bet $200 a day at home, take $100 and be most careful on the first day of your trip.

Watch a few races. My Uncle Earl was not the racing aficionado that my father was, but he would often accompany my dad to the track. An engineer for IBM and very analytical by nature, he never made a bet until at least the fourth race. He liked to see how the track was playing, how the jocks were riding and just get an overall view of what was going on before he ventured to the windows. This is good advice on a racing vacation.

If you must bet, keep the wagers small and analyze the results of your handicapping. Most importantly, check for a track bias. The three days I was at Oaklawn proved to me that closers are at a distinct disadvantage and horses that make the lead into the stretch get home on top most of the time, especially in races using the first finish line.

Read the “Standings” page in your program. The leading trainers at the meeting have barns of quality and their horses have obviously been running well. The leading jocks have the best agents who have their pick of mounts. Let them guide you a bit. It doesn’t mean you have to turn things into a chalk fest, but be aware of the top players. During my recent Oaklawn visit, the leading trainer, Allen Milligan, popped with a first-time starter at a $132.80 mutuel!

Gravitate to the best races. Any horseplayer worth their salt knows that a Grade 2 stakes is much more predictable than a conditioned Arkansas-bred $7,500 claiming race. It is good to adopt an elitist attitude as far as handicapping on a racing vacation. The best races at almost every track, every day, are late in the card. Go easy on the early races and save your prime bets for the allowance and stakes races later on.

See the sights. Use every race that you pass as an opportunity to check out the facilities and talk to the fans. Go to the gift shop and get a t-shirt to remember your trip. Visit with the locals and get some insight. Take a trip to the paddock. Watch a race from the rail. Eat the track’s signature dish. (At Oaklawn it is the corned beef sandwiches.) Drink it all in.

Hay, I am all in favor of making a major wager when the opportunity presents itself, so if you fancy an overlayed steed at a track you don’t usually follow, “be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” The rest of the time, keep these concepts in mind. It is o.k. to lose your luggage, but don’t lose your bankroll.

Cowboy Cadillac named AGameofSkill Claimer of the Week

Claimer of the Week at AGameofSkill.comCowboy Cadillac showed his late kick to win the fourth race at Oaklawn Park Saturday afternoon in a race for $5,000 claimers. The one mile event was for horses winless in the last three months. The chestnut gelding began to advance approaching the quarter pole and was 2 lengths behind the early pacesetter with a 1/16 of a mile to go. Cowboy Cadillac ran on to win by more than a length. Veteran rider Jon Court lost his whip during the procession but it made no difference as the 7 year old earned his tenth career victory. Sired by the obscure stallion Booklet, the Al Gates trainee recorded his third lifetime win in Hot Springs and broke the $100,000 career earnings barrier. Owned by Eugenia Thompson, Cowboy Cadillac has finished in the money 22 times from 54 career starts.

-Art Parker