Oaklawn Park Records and Facts

January 4th, 2018


1905 – On February 24, Oaklawn Park Race Track opened its doors to a crowd of some 3,000 race fans. The day was declared a half-day holiday by Hot Springs officials.

1907 – Due to political problems in the state, racing was suspended.

1916 – Racing resumed at Oaklawn. The track is now owned by Louis Cella.

1936 – The Arkansas Derby was born with a purse $5,000.

1945 – Racing throughout the United States ended for an indefinite period at the request because of WWII. A 30-day season was held on November 5 through December 8 for the lost Spring meet. On opening day, an estimated crowd of 4,200 attended, and $189,289 was wagered.

1952 – Oaklawn gained national attention when its handle rose from a daily average of $336,341 to $434,667. Attendance climbs from 7,057 a day to 7,739.

1959 – The Meeting reached two milestones when its averages reached 10,000 in attendance and $500,000 pari-mutuel handle.

1960’s – Par 3 golf course in the infield was used in the off season.

1965 – Arkansas Derby purse increased to $50,000.

1970 – Records continue to be broken. During the 50-day meeting, a total crowd of 556,000 attended and bet $43,366,921. The average attendance was 11,120.

1973 – The first running of the Fantasy Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies, took place.

1974 – The Racing Festival of the South was born.

1980 – More than 250,000 fans attended the Racing Festival of the South. Temperance Hill won the Arkansas Derby.

1983 – Largest Average Daily Attendance Record Set 23,271 (still stands)

1984 – The purse for the Arkansas Derby was increased to $500,000.

1986 – The standing record single day attendance of 71,203 was set.

1991 – The Oaklawn Club was completely renovated.

1996 – Oaklawn Park race track achieved a record handle of $10,653,518 on Arkansas Derby Day.

2000 – Instant Racing, a pari-mutuel electronic system which allows players to wager on previously-run races, was introduced and field-tested at Oaklawn Park race track.

2011 – The average daily attendance grew 3% in 2011 from 2010 levels to 11,649.  Arkansas Derby Day saw an attendance of 62,364

There has never been a turf track at Oaklawn Park.
Horseplayers Association has ranked Oaklawn Park as the 9th best track in all of North America.  And, in my opinion, should be a “must see” by all who love the sport of Kings.

NTRA/NHC Championship 2015: Tips, Trips and Tricks

February 17th, 2015

From The Track Philosopher’s NHC Experiences NHC logo

The following are some insights and examples of what to do and what not to do at the at the National Handicapper Championship in Las Vegas in January.  To those who get an entry, “congratulations”, you are already a winner. To those horse players who love the sport and are active track goers or online players – put this tournament on your bucket list – it’s the ultimate! The following is my personal journey and the lessons I learned along the way.

This tournament has been held every year for 16 years and is currently expanded to about 600 players of which each get there through winning a competition and not a buy-in. The amazing Michele Ravencraft of the NTRA/NHC is the director and not enough can be said for her organization and people skills.  She truly is a champion in eyes of most all that attended. About 10 times a day I received, via my iPhone, an email from her office with the current standings – she is the epitome of efficiency.

Let’s get started by getting there early – the day before at a minimum.  As you unpack make sure you have ALL your tools of the trade like pens, paper, computer (they will have outlets on each table and free wifi access), notes and anything else to help you get the advantage, yea, even your lucky coin or rabbits foot. Find out when registration takes place and head on down.  Do not get off task – no slots, poker or keno and stay out of the sportsbook – you are on a mission.  You have a 1 – 600 chance of winning $800K and a 1 in 12 chance to win $10K.  Those are once in a lifetime odds (unless you go back again).

Registration Day: vegas
Register and pick up essential materials like tomorrow’s forms, list of tracks and mandatory races and familiarize yourself with the area. Daily Racing Forms are available but if you are early you have to be persistent to get your copies. This is also a good time to pick out a table and have one of the DRF people attach your giant name tag to the back of a chair.  Try to get a seat that is out of a traffic path and within a short distance to a teller or betting machine.  If you don’t know anyone who might be playing at the tournament then just pick a random chair – you’ll enjoy meeting new horse players.  This will be one of those rare times you will sit in a group of thoroughbred bettors and not be bothered by, “what do these numbers on the form mean?” or “what exactly are blinkers?”  It was really a joy to sit with horse players that know the game.

Now that you have all your ammo for Day 1 go get something to eat and go directly to your room – Do Not – stop by for a quick game of blackjack or video poker – you have work to do! And before looking at a single race check out the weather forecast for all of tomorrow’s track locations.

Unfortunately, the Treasure Island room decor is not exactly the best suited for studying.  The chair was too low to the desk and the lighting was too dim for old eyes.  But, deal with it since it’s better than sitting at one of the bars listening to some loud Joe Schmo talk politics.  At least, the room can be a quiet place to concentrate.

The most important time of your trip is NOW.  I liked to tackle the mandatory races first – they are races that everyone has an equal footing. Getting them done first will take a lot less time than picking 8 races out of 30 or so. It’s always good to have 1 or 2 back up horses selected so I advise you to have a list of 3 just in case your top pick is scratched or it’s odds drop severely. On the mandatory races my recommendation is to go with anything 2-1 or over if you absolutely believe this favorite is unbeatable then let everyone else get skunked and collect 7 to 9 points – that is unless you see a longshot with a good chance to get up for a 2nd place score.

It is nearly impossible to find a reliable longshot and many of those horse players that hit them are nothing more than lucky dart throwers. Here are some things to look for in your search for value or possible longshot:https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSl3z47T5NX0RkZAFf15v1jlTMclb0-6qr_ck7dfHOrSbfCC0XBIQ

     – Huge class drop or a class horse coming off a long layoff

     – Erratic performances or race pattern

     – A switch to top connections for this race

Once you have completed the mandatory races it’s time to get up and walk around the room, look out the window or walk down the hall and back.  This next part is the real challenge of the NHC – the optional races. Here are some time saving thoughts before you start…..

     – Eliminate tracks completely if bad weather is forecast – like rain (scratches & horses coming off the turf) or snow (could cause cancellation of some or all races)

     – I like to start with the latest race tracks first i.e. Santa Anita and work my way east to finish with Tampa/Gulfstream.  This gives me more options toward the end of Day 1.

     – I would recommend you cross out all races with less than 8 starters – the fewer horses the lower the odds, generally speaking, and if there are scratch(es) and the field goes to 5 or 6 then you didn’t waste your time.

     – Mark ALL turf, maiden and sprint races – you might do better in some than others.  Many players don’t like the unreliability of maidens and I don’t like Optional Claimers.

     – If the #1 horse you pick in a race is below 7-2 then move on to another race. Many times that M/L 7-2 will end up at 5-2 or lower and you’ll toss it later.

     – Rank your horses as the top 3, rate jockeys and trainers and horses’ ability to close or be a front runner.

By now it’s late so don’t even think about that craps table you had your eye on when you walked through the casino. After you finish get to bed and set your alarm for around 7:00am!

DAY 1:
Head down early for coffee and some pastry but don’t expect eggs and ham.  And if your better half is in the room fix a small plate and take it up to her – I did and when I was on my way up in the elevator some old biker, coming in from a long night out, looked up from my plate of fruit and pastry and said, “You must have a bear in your room!”  That funny jib got my day off to a good start.

Back down to the huge conference room with my tools for a time to meet my table as they straggled in for the competition. This is a great time to go over some of your picks of the day while you slug down the free coffee.

Throughout the day they have someone making announcements constantly and they do a great job letting everyone know about upcoming mandatory races.  But you MUST watch your optional races like a hawk.  Use SuperTote or some other program in front of you to make sure you don’t get shut out.

For example, I was doing fair throughout the morning that first day ranked about 150th when I noticed the buffet had begun and my new friend next to me sat down with an awesome plate of lunch. Now, I’m not normally a lunch person but it looked so good I didn’t think twice and bee-lined it to the lobby.  When I got back and took that big bite I looked down for my next playable race – then I looked up at the screen to see the gates open and eventually see the horse I circled as my top pick win the race and pay a total of $30 for the win/place.  Ouch, that hurt and my sandwich began to taste a little sour. In fact, I never recovered from that feeling of “I can’t believe I just did that”.  My game plan started to change to a panic mode.

A short while later as my standings started to fade down the list, a loud group of players were hitting some bombs or at least that’s what they wanted everyone to believe.  So I let Ol’ Man Panic take over and I started playing double digit odds only.  I had several more races today and another 15 races tomorrow but that didn’t stop me from making poor choices and I finished the day around 200th (out of 600) and only about $80 out of the top 50.  But that didn’t sink in – I still couldn’t shake that missed opportunity and by now I was in full panic mode.

Here’s a big tip for you; throughout the contest remember the old tale of “The Tortoise and the Hare” and realize that with 3 winners you can move up significantly in the standings.  Here are some more tips:

     – You are always just a few races from moving up significantly in the standings

     – Only look for longshots to place when a race has a big 3-5 or so favorite

     – Continue to set goals like – getting in top 100 Day 1 and top 50 Day 2

     – Don’t pass on a 3-1 or 5-2 sure bets on mandatory races (they can add up)

     – Cheer on your table’s horseplayers when you can – it’s GOOD Karma

     – And ALWAYS watch the odds of your pick until around 5 minutes to post

As Day 1 comes to a close, pick up tomorrow’s racing forms as you leave and go out to eat and relax for a while. But get right back to the numbers in your quiet room.  Day 2’s goal is to get into top 50 – that is a guaranteed win of at least $10,000 and lots of bragging rights.

Day 2:
It was Day 2 and I was needing something good to come along. I had hit 2 of my first 3 picks and I was ranked in the early top 5 for Day 2 – I was feeling pretty good. Then, on my next race I looked at the odds of a horse I had figured to win the next race at Tampa and the odds were 9-2 at 20 minutes to post.  So, thinking that the odds were a little too low, I skipped the race and moved to another track for a horse that was 6-1 and, of course, he didn’t finish in the money.  But the 9-2 horse I gave up on, well he finished 1st and by the time the race went off his odds were a whopping 9-1. Ouch! not again – another $30 mistake. From that point on – I was again devastated and went into FULL panic mode as my score became frozen and my name fell further down the standings.

I learned that hitting winners consistently is better than chasing after mid-range or longshot horses that don’t have a chance.  That longshots are rarely hit on purpose and usually are merely a lucky stab in the dark or they are a 10-1 horse who’s odds drift up to 20-1. DO NOT start launching bombs until you are out of range with only 3-4 races to go on Day 2. DO NOT think or say the words “Bomb” or “Cap Horse” until 2:00pm on Day 2.  Repeat in your head over and over the moral of the story of  “The Tortoise and the Hare”… slow and steady wins the race, slow and steady wins the race. Stay with your game plan until there are just a few races left…. no matter what mistakes you make or what mistakes your horses and jockeys make.

Day 3:A Lot of Money
I would like to be writing about the Top 50 here but instead I’ll just say that the consolation tournament was more of a laid back contest having fun with the players at the table and getting to know them and what tracks they frequent.

The afternoon was a time to watch the Top 10 table compete and that 1 lucky horseplayer win, not only the $800K 1st prize, but a bit of infamy as his name will be forever etched as the National Handicapper Champion of 2014.

Finally, we all filed in to the awards dinner that evening.  It was nice that they allowed the spouses to participate in the Steak & Shrimp dinner.  The spouses are the real troopers here – sitting in a Vegas hotel room while your other half is absolutely consumed by horse information during the day at the contest and during the evening in the room.  In fact, I think my wife now owns the Guinness Book of Records for the category “Consecutive days spent in a Las Vegas hotel without venturing out.”

Final Thoughts:
All in all with those 2 races for about $60 and just 3 or 4 more 3-1’s I woulda …. coulda …. shouda finished in the top 50.  But instead, I fell behind and I didn’t realize how easy it was to give into panic to finished in a disgraceful 300 range out of 600. There comes a time to let it go and realize that 450 players finished out of the top 50 and that I had my chance and most of all I had a  real blast!

So have fun while you are playing serious – get to know and laugh with your table.  We were fortunate to have such a good table and for one of the wives who came down for a visit and kindly took some great pictures of our table players. If you love horse racing put this event on your bucket list and get entering NHC qualifiers on-line or at your local racetrack.

See you in Vegas next January! I’ll be the guy mumbling to himself, “….slow and steady wins the race, slow and steady…” -TP

Del Mar’s Inaugural Bing Crosby Season

November 7th, 2014


At the end of another great year of racing what better way to end 2014 than with a grand finale at the gorgeous Del Mar Race Track.  Named after the founder of the Del Mar track, Bing Crosby is remembered for his huge contribution to Southern California and to horse racing in general.

This was a much needed boost to So Cal racing as it lost one of it’s more famous iconic racetracks earlier in the year, Hollywood Park.

The added season debuts on Nov. 7 to Nov. 30 pays tribute to the glamor and excitement of 1930s when Hollywood icon Bing Crosby founded the track with some of his celebrity pals. The Bing Crosby Season will run a total of 15 racing days – primarily Thursday through Sunday – with an earlier daily post time of 12 p.m. on weekends and 12:30 p.m. on weekdays. The one exception will be Thanksgiving Day, November 27, with first post shifted to 11 a.m.

The opening day party on Friday, November 7 will begin with stars and fans showing off their fall finest in an outrageous day of racing and revelry. That afternoon will feature an “Old Hollywood Fashion Contest,” with awards being given for Best Dressed Couple, Best Old Hollywood and Best Celebrity Lookalike.

Admission throughout the meet at all gates will be $6 ($3 for Diamond Club members). Every Friday (except Opening Day) is Free & Easy for Diamond Club Members, where they receive free admission, program and seat, along with half-priced beer, sodas and hot dogs.

For those that love horse racing or horses in general this is an awesome way to cap the year. And for those who live too far from the San Diego area, well, over the next few weeks we will just be watching from afar and definitely be “California Dreaming”!

Yes Virginia, There Are No Live Horse Races in Vegas!

August 29th, 2014

Of all the states in this land we call America, one would have to think that Nevada of all places would be home to more than a few thoroughbred race tracks but no! Not even home to the “horse drags” otherwise known as quarter horse straight tracks.

I would wager that on an annualized survey, more money is bet on horses in the state of Nevada than just about anywhere, with exception of California and New York.

Each major Vegas casino pampers the sports bettors like no where else. If you have only experienced off track betting from an OTB parlor in New York City, that would be oh, so sad. Even the major race tracks that simulcast in their off season don’t hold a candle to something like the MGM Grand, Caesars Palace or the Hilton. And the bettor is not limited to just horses…. if the game includes a ball, a puck, wheels, gloves or a clock they will take your bet. But don’t expect to see a live horse unless you are taking the Grand Canyon tour.

There is one game, which is a favorite to many a hardcore handicapper with horses flying along the track right before your eyes. Yes, Virginia, this is the closest thing in Las Vegas to REAL horse racing.

Two Classic Summer Tracks

June 30th, 2014

“The Spa”
Saratoga Springs
, NY

Saratoga Race Course opened in Saratoga Springs, NY on August 3, 1863, and is the oldest organized sporting venue of any kind in the United States. It is typically open for racing from late July through early September. The race course has two well-known nicknames — The Spa (for the nearby mineral springs), and the “Graveyard of Champions” (for the upsets that have occurred there, including Secretariat).

The grounds at Saratoga Race Course contain several unique features. Patrons can get close up views of the horses being led to the paddock as the path from the stables runs through the picnic grounds. There is a mineral spring called the Big Red Spring in the picnic grounds where patrons can partake of the water that made Saratoga Springs famous. A gazebo is a prominent feature on the infield and a stylized version of the gazebo is part of Saratoga Race Course logo.

Saratoga Race Course is rich with tradition. A lake in the middle of the track contains a canoe that is painted annually in the colors of the winning stable for that year’s Travers Stakes winner. Also, prior to each race a bell is hand rung at exactly 17 minutes prior to scheduled post time for each race. This is to call the jockeys to the paddock.

The 2014 meeting will be 40 race days long from Friday, July 18th to Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 1st. Saratoga is the home of the 145th Running of the Travers Stakes on Aug. 23rd this year. The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and the NBC Sports Group have announced the schedule for this year’s Summer at Saratoga series, check your listings for this great HD experience.
2014 Highlights:

  •     July 19:  Grade 1, $500,000 Diana
  •     July 26:  Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy
  •     August 2: Grade 1, $1,500,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap
  •     August 9: Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap
  •     August 10: Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack and Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special
  •     August 16: Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama
  •     August 17: Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational
  •     August 22: Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign Invitational
  •     August 24: Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King’s Bishop, Grade 1, $1,250,000 Travers
  •     August 31:  Grade 1, $500,000 Forego and Grade 1, $600,000 Woodward

“Where the Turf Meets the Surf”
Del Mar, CA

Del Mar Race Track is an American Thoroughbred horse racing track at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in the seaside city of Del Mar, California, 20 miles north of San Diego. Operated by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, it is known for the slogan: “Where The Surf Meets The Turf.” It was built by a partnership including Bing Crosby, the actor Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, Charles S. Howard and Oliver Hardy.

The first Bing Crosby Handicap was held at Del Mar in 1946 and that same year the Sante Fe Railroad began offering a racetrack special bringing spectators, bettors and horses to Del Mar from Los Angeles. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s the track became the Saratoga of the West for summer racing. The track had large purses for many stakes, over half of which were won by the legendary jockey, Bill Shoemaker.

The track has a one-mile main dirt track and a seven furlong turf course. The meet runs during the summer at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and can stable more than a thousand horses. Del Mar is known for its tan stucco grandstand located directly in view of the Pacific Ocean.

The first race of the meet on opening day (this year Thursday, July 17th) starts at 2:00pm when track announcer Trevor Denman begins each racing season with his trademark call: “And there’s the roar from the Del Mar crowd as the Del Mar meet is underway.” An estimated crowd of 40,000 plus will be in attendance. This year racing will be from Wednesday to Sunday with a 2:00pm start time except for Friday when first post is 4:00pm and followed by a concert.

In addition, 2014 kicks off a second season at Del Mar with opening day set for Friday, Nov. 7th through Sunday Nov. 30.

Your Bucket List

If you enjoy the sport of kings and love to spend a summer afternoon at the track then put these two venues on your bucket list and get planning. Whether it’s at “The Spa” in upstate New York or “Where the turf meets the surf” in sunny Southern California you will be in for a special treat indeed.

From TP’s Work Desk

Feb. 2nd* – Race 5) $16.40
Feb. 9th** – Race 7) $69.00
*Based on $2 Bets
**Based on $12 Bets
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