Larry Jones might have one of the top Kentucky Derby (gr. I) hopefuls this year, and he plans to bring the horse to Arkansas.
“It’s a good spot to get them started and go,” said Jones, who trains undefeated Old Fashioned. “They always seem like they come out of there and do well.”
In recent years, horses like Smarty Jones , Afleet Alex, and Curlin have come through Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs before going on to success in Triple Crown races. The Jan. 16 start of live racing at the track is one of the first signs that the Derby isn’t that far off.
Old Fashioned last raced in November in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) and won by seven lengths. The horse is at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in Louisiana, but Jones said the plan is to bring him to Oaklawn the end of January.
Once in Arkansas, he probably would race in the Feb. 16 Southwest Stakes, the first major prep for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn. The others are the March 14 Rebel Stakes (gr. III) and the April 11 Arkansas Derby (gr. II).
Last year’s Arkansas Derby winner, Gayego, wasn’t a factor in the Triple Crown races. The year before, however, Curlin won at Oaklawn toward the beginning of a campaign that earned him Horse of the Year honors.
“The focus of our season is the 3-year-old racing,” Oaklawn assistant general manager David Longinotti said. “It’s kind of the focus of the racing world as horses prepare for the Kentucky Derby, and we think this is the best place in the country to do that.”
Though some tracks have installed synthetic surfaces, Oaklawn still has a dirt track. Longinotti said familiarity with the surface is a benefit.
“We have a pretty good idea, from our experience of dealing with our surface, of how (the track will react to) weather,” Longinotti said. “I would hate to be dealing with the kind of overnight temperatures we get here sometimes on a surface that you didn’t know how it was going to react.”
Oaklawn is in the process of constructing an addition at the south end of the main building; when completed, the track expects to have about 1,000 gaming machines. That probably won’t be until May, however.
Opening day features 50-cent corned beef sandwiches and 10-cent soft drinks. On Jan. 19, Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Curlin bobbleheads will be given away.