The 2013 meet at Oaklawn Park was highlighted by record purse distribution, career milestones, and the emergence of several top Kentucky Derby hopefuls during its 54-day run.
The Hot Springs, Ark. track had its largest Arkansas Derby (gr. I) crowd since 2007 when 66,158 people turned out to watch Repole Stable's Overanalyze win the $1 million race April 13, closing day of the 2013 season.
Oaklawn benefited from Churchill Downs' new point system for qualifying for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Currently there are seven horses among the top 20 that earned points from Oaklawn's 3-year-old prep stakes. Leading that group is Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze and Rebel Stakes (gr. II) winner Will Take Charge, who also won Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes in January.
"The point system definitely helped our 3-year-old series this year, especially early on with the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes (gr. III)," said David Longinotti, assistant general manager of racing. "We had horses ship in for all four of our races and it looks like we're sending a strong contingent to Louisville."
Oaklawn was originally scheduled to race 56 days, but was forced to cancel Jan. 12-13,when severe rain washed out a small portion of the track. In fact, 2013 will go down as one of the wettest in Oaklawn's history with rain also hampering Southwest Stakes day Feb. 18, Fantasy Stakes day April 10, and causing the track to cancel two of the five infield events planned for March 23 and March 30.
Despite losing two days, Oaklawn distributed $1 million more in purses in 2013, topped by a record $2,177,000 on Arkansas Derby day. Maiden special weights and allowance race purses also were a record for the track. The season began with $53,000 maiden special weights and allowance races worth at least $54,000. By closing week, they had grown to as much as $57,000 and $58,000, respectively.
The weather was also a factor in Oaklawn's final numbers. Average daily attendance dropped 2.4% from 10,579 to 10,319, but daily average handle increased 2.3% from $2,780,943 in 2012 to $2,845,768 in 2013. Overall, total attendance for the 54 days was 557,250 and total handle was $153,671,496.
The 2013 season was momentous for both jockey Calvin Borel and trainer Steve Hobby, who each reached a career milestone. Borel won the 5,000th race of his career March 7 aboard Hezunusal, while Hobby saddled his 1,000th winner March 1 in Ruthless Empire.
Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. earned his first leading jockey title at Oaklawn with 70 victories, including the first graded stakes of his career aboard Justin Phillip in the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III) on the Arkansas Derby undercard. Trainer Steve Asmussen earned his fifth leading trainer title with 37 wins and Midwest Thoroughbreds was the leading owner for the third straight year with 16 wins.
"When you take into consideration we ran two fewer days in 2013 and had more than 10 days where the track was rated something other than fast, we are extremely pleased," said Longinotti. "We had a lot of new horsemen this year which helped enhance our racing product, and our regular horsemen keep coming back with better and better horses.
"In addition to our 3-year-old colts, I think you're going to hear a lot from other stakes winners such as Cyber Secret, On Fire Baby, Tiz Miz Sue, and Rose to Gold throughout the year. We're already looking forward to next season."