A hefty 279 days elapsed between the 2015 Arkansas Derby and the beginning of Oaklawn’s 2016 meet. I think I can safely say I thought about the track each of these 279 days, but I might’ve taken a day or two off.
So obviously, anticipation was high for the beginning of the season. The Oaklawn wreath went on the front door.
My next-door-neighbor, good friend and fellow race enthusiast Julie and I attended the Oaklawn kick-off banquet hosted by the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and Frank Fletcher, car dealer, horse owner and Oaklawn ambassador extraordinaire (Julie and I pictured below at Breeders' Cup 2015).
We were reunited with fellow fans, jockeys, trainers, owners, handicappers and track friends. Pete Aiello, Oaklawn’s new track announcer, gave the keynote address. I had interviewed him over the phone for an article the week before he arrived from Florida (Aiello Excited About New Oaklawn Role). I was intrigued to learn he had never been in the state of Arkansas. I was looking forward to meeting him after a very genuine and warm interview. Throughout the season, I enjoyed hearing his reactions concerning Hot Springs and Oaklawn. It was fun to experience the two through the eyes of someone enjoying the season for the first time. Pete’s vivacious approach to racing and life in general make him an excellent asset to the Oaklawn community.
Arriving at the track is always a joyous reunion: seeing track friends again after seven months. It’s comforting and exciting to see everyone in their expected places. But nothing beat hearing "RACING AT OAKLAWN!!!"
And then the first corned beef of the season is DIVINE (actually, I prefer the dressed up cousin, the Reuben, from the Sports Tavern on the second floor).
My husband Casey and I traditionally begin the racing season with our friends Ted and Carrie.
Opening weekend fell on the holiday weekend of Martin Luther King Day, and this was the first year that the junior high where I teach had this day on the holiday calendar. So for the first time, I was able to witness the running of the Smarty Jones Stakes. I was also STOKED to be present for the American Pharoah bobblehorse giveaway.
During 2015, I collected quotes from people I interviewed about why they love Oaklawn Park. And then I made a few calls to other people before the season began to add to my collection. I was shocked and elated when D. Wayne Lukas answered my call and spoke to me. And I was even more ecstatic when I had the chance to meet him several weeks later and thank him for his help. He was very pleasant and solidified his position as my octogenarian crush (Quotes piece found here: Oaklawn Park a Favorite with Fans and Horsemen).
Oaklawn is for lovers, and we were one of three couples in a group who were Hot Springs bound for Valentine's day. This year, I wanted horse racing valentines to catch on. Some suggestions:
Other can't-miss suggestions:
- “You’re EXACTA who I want to be with.”
- “My HEART is HAPPY when we HANDICAP together.”
- “I don’t need to PICK 6; I only need to PICK ONE: YOU!!!!”
- “Through inquiry at Delta Downs, a lost ticket at Oaklawn and the Uber line at Breeders’ Cup 2015, your love sustains me.”
Perhaps this trend will catch on next year?
Casey and I had the distinct pleasure of introducing two extraordinary men to live racing. The first was my stepdaughter’s boyfriend Tom. Of course Emily, who graduates from Colorado State University next month, had been to Oaklawn. But Tom had never been to a track. Casey and I showed them a few things we look for as we read the program and the Form, and they picked up on it very quickly. The four of us had an amazing day picking the ponies.
The second important man we introduced to Oaklawn was our three-year-old son. Casey and I had many discussions about the proper time for Case’s first visit to the track. It was an outing that held great emotional import for me. It was my desire to share what I love with a person I love. Here's the full story: Creating the Next Generation of Fans at Oaklawn Park.
I relished every bit of writing and taking pictures I was able to do this season. I am always looking to grow these experiences.
Most of my friends who comprise the group we refer to as The Sisterhood of the Arkansas Derby were able to add an additional girls’ weekend to the calendar to become The Sisterhood of the Rebel Revelry. Here's a longer account of this glorious day: Oaklawn Diaries: Girls' Day Out at Rebel.
Of course I jumped all over the Cupid bandwagon because the Baffert connections reminded me of American Pharoah. However, I loved half of the field in the Rebel.
We had reservations on Rolando's patio, one of the most beautiful in the world, but colder weather put us in the speakeasy instead.
One month later, we were completely in formation, and we returned for the bittersweet end. To read about our prep, please check out The Sisterhood of the Arkansas Derby.
Of course, the weekend provides the best racing of the season, but it also brings the LAST day of racing of our boutique meet. This year, our Friday itinerary included the DeLuca’s/Ohio Club exacta (I’ve expounded on these two fine establishments: Experience Oaklawn: An Evening on Central Ave.).
Arkansas Derby day was full of fashion, fun, laughs and fantastic memories made with friends.
One of my older track friends, Bill, said, “I hope I’m here to see you again next season.” Saying goodbye to track friends—some old and some very new—and the track itself was a downer.
And we will only have to wait 272 days until it all begins again on January 13, 2017.