Arkansas Derby Helps Oaklawn Meet Recover

(from track report)
The 2003 Oaklawn Park meet started with the cancellation of the opening weekend's cards due to terrible weather, but ended its 49-day run with an outstanding crowd of 61,752 for the Arkansas Derby program April 12.

According to unofficial figures, the average attendance for the meet was 11,938 (even with 2002), and the average daily on-track handle fell 4 percent to $990,987. The average daily simulcast handle (races imported to Oaklawn) was $351,132, up 6 percent.

"We've never seen a meet start so poorly, and end so well as this one," Oaklawn general manager Eric Jackson said this morning. "We came a long way from our cancelled opening to our crescendo closing. We would have done even better on closing day if we weren't locked into the Derby time for NBC."

"There are a lot of positives to take from our meeting," said Pat Pope, Oaklawn racing secretary. "Our new horsemen did very well. Larry Jones and Mike Tomlinson won the Fantasy and Derby. Joe Woodard had a great meeting, and his best horse (Slider) ran second in the Oaklawn. And Cole Norman broke a training record that had stood forever."

Norman finished the meet with 71 winners in 49 racing days, shattering David Vance's record of 50 winners, set in 1974.

Jamie Theriot, riding mostly for Norman, won the riding title by two victories over Terry Thompson (71-69) after a ding-dong duel through the entire meeting. Carlos Marquez Jr., riding at Oaklawn for the first time, finished third in the standings with 47 winners.

Unofficially the total handle for Derby Day was $13,256,548. The on-track handle was $4,459,677, and the off-track handle totaled $8,796,871.