Oaklawn Park is back, commencing a four-month 2016 season on Friday with a nine-race card that features at least 11 horses in seven races. All races are contested on the main track in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a popular destination for both Thoroughbred racing fans and tourists alike.

Full and contentious fields are the norm and Oaklawn features a tremendous stakes calendar. American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, made both of his Kentucky Derby prep races at Oaklawn in 2015, winning the Rebel (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) before shipping to Churchill Downs.

The 3-year-old stakes series begins Monday with the $150,000 Smarty Jones. The one-mile race has never produced a Triple Crown race winner in eight previous runnings, but champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge (2013) and two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) hero Flat Out (2009) are among past winners.

The 2015 meet featured three purse increases and officials are projecting record total purses of $27 million, or $475,000 per day, in 2016, a 12% increase over last year. The $500,000 Southwest (G3) on February 15 and $900,000 Rebel on March 19 both received purse increases and serve as precursors to the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16.

Triple Crown race winners Smarty Jones (Kentucky Derby and Preakness), Afleet Alex (Preakness and Belmont), Curlin (Preakness) and Lookin at Lucky (Preakness) all prepped locally and Horse of the Year recipients Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Havre de Grace and Azeri also raced at Oaklawn Park since the turn of the century.

Other highlights include the Racing Festival of the South, which runs from April 9-April 16. Along with the Arkansas Derby, the $750,000 Oaklawn H. (G2), $600,000 Apple Blossom (G1), $400,000 Fantasy (G2) and $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint (G3) will be offered.

Chris Hartman led all trainers with 34 wins in 2015, scoring at an excellent 26% clip, and runner-up Steve Asmussen recorded a personal milestone at Oaklawn last April, becoming only the second trainer to reach 7,000 wins (joining Dale Baird). Asmussen notably campaigned three straight Horse of the Year winners from 2007-09 (Curlin twice and Rachel Alexandra).

Top 2015 Oaklawn Trainers by wins (ties listed by earnings):

Trainer

 

Wins

 

Win%

Chris Hartman

 

34

 

26%

Steve Asmussen

 

30

 

16%

Brad Cox

 

18

 

22%

Federico Villafranco

 

18

 

18%

Chris Richard

 

15

 

15%

Ron Moquett

 

13

 

15%

Ingrid Mason

 

12

 

15%

Al Cates

 

12

 

24%

Donnie K. Von Hemel

 

11

 

10%

Wayne Catalano

 

11

 

21%

Steve Hobby

 

11

 

18%

 

 

 

 

 

The jockeys’ race turned out to be a tightly-contested, with Ricardo Santa Jr. edging Ramon Vasquez by a pair to bag his third straight riding crown. Both figure to be highly prominent once again and Corey Nakatani, who has won nearly 4,000 races in a distinguished career, has moved his tack back from California. The 45-year-old rider finished second in the 2010 jockey standings, his lone previous season at Oaklawn.

Top 2015 Oaklawn Jockeys by wins:

Jockey

 

Wins

 

Win%

Ricardo Santana Jr.

 

53

 

17%

Ramon Vasquez

 

51

 

16%

Shaun Bridgmohan

 

30

 

18%

Cliff Berry

 

28

 

14%

Luis Quinonez

 

23

 

12%

Jareth Loveberry

 

23

 

9%

Chris Landeros

 

22

 

16%

Joe Rocco Jr.

 

21

 

12%

Alex Canchari

 

21

 

11%

Walter De La Cruz

 

20

 

12%

 

 

 

 

 

Danny Caldwell, who has all his horses with Federico Villafranco, easily captured his second straight owner title in 2015.

Top 2015 Oaklawn Owners by wins:

Owner

 

Wins

 

Win%

Danny Caldwell

 

18

 

18%

Black Hawk Stables (James Rogers)

 

11

 

38%

Maggi Moss

 

11

 

24%

Gary & Mary West

 

8

 

18%

Alex & JoAnn Lieblong

 

8

 

20%

Gene Burkholder

 

8

 

17%

Ywachetta Driver & James Travis

 

6

 

24%

Mercedes Stable LLC

 

6

 

35%

Dream Walkin Farms Inc.

 

6

 

12%

Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc.

 

6

 

8%

K.K. & V. Devi Jayaraman

 

6

 

11%

 

 

 

 

 

My first trip to Oaklawn came in 1995 when I had the privilege to see Cigar win the Oaklawn H. and I’ve been back many times since. The corned beef sandwiches are legendary, the Carousel Dining Room offers a terrific view of the track and I’ve spent plenty of time in the Oyster Bar with friends.

Oaklawn is a great track to visit and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s never been.

Handicapping Nuggets

There’s no horse shortage at Oaklawn Park and contentious races feature plenty of opportunities for lucrative returns. Here are some handicapping nuggets from the ALL-Ways Data Professional Edition Software which is available for free at brisnet.com:

During the 2015 meet, the top last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating produced a flat-bet profit in non-maiden dirt sprints on fast tracks.

The top-ranked PRIME POWER horse won 33% of the time and had a flat-bet profit as well. When the gap was 8+ on fast tracks, the win rate was 50%.

On OFF tracks in non-maiden dirt sprints, the horse with the best lifetime Brisnet.com Speed Rating on an off track produced a +20% ROI.

The top-ranked PRIME POWER horse won 41% races with a +28% ROI.

Opening-Day Plays

Fast conditions are likely for the opening weekend, which runs Friday-Monday, and I’ll recommend a couple of horses I like on Friday’s card.

In race 5, #11 Mysterious Promise (6-1) returns to Oaklawn in good form, posting a facile victory over lesser company at Delta Downs last out, and the gelding is a two-time winner at Oaklawn, including a 13-1 upset at the distance last March. He tops the field in Prime Power and last-out Brisnet.com Speed Rating.

In race 6, #10 Admiral Shepard (6-1) will be a key on my Pick 4 tickets (races 6-9). Outside posts performed well in 1 1/16-mile races last year and Admiral Shepard ran into a buzzsaw in his lone start, finishing third to the well-regarded Seymourdini at Aqueduct on November 22. Asmussen wins at a 24% clip the second time out and Admiral Shepard has an excellent chance to graduate.

Oaklawn Opening Weekend Grand Slam:  The Oaklawn Racing 2016 Live Meet kicks off this weekend with a great lineup of races, including four stakes races across four consecutive days. In other words, they are setting up an Oaklawn Grand Slam and TwinSpires.com is giving away 1 Million Points to its Players for hitting it. For complete details: http://www.twinspires.com/oaklawn-opening-weekend-grand-slam