The world-class Oaklawn Racing and Gaming has consistently been one of the premier thoroughbred horse racing tracks in the country since it began its operations in 1904. It annually hosts the prestigious Racing Festival of the South every last week of April and is home to the $1 Million Arkansas Derby.
On February 24, 1905, Oaklawn Park opened its doors to more than 3,000 attendees to witness the inaugural race. It was named after the rural community in which it was built, which originally stood among ancient oaks.At the time, it was one of only four thoroughbred racetracks around the area. There was Sportsman’s Park, which operated in the late 1890s, Essex Park, which opened on Malvern Road in 1904, and one at Little Rock, Arkansas, 50 miles northeast of Hot Springs.
During its conception, its founders John Condon and Dan Stuart commissioned the services of renowned Chicago architect Zachary Taylor Davis to design Oaklawn’s glass-enclosed grandstand. They spent roughly $500,000 for the project. And in anticipation for the park’s opening, several establishment owners charged to their offices to obtain stalls and operate within the park.
However, on 1907, Oaklawn Park was forced to close down its operations due to the troubled political situation at the time. It later reopened in 1916 under the Cella brothers. It remained open until 1919 when the state declared racing to be illegal. It later reopened in 1934.
By 1967, Oaklawn Park was the only legal gambling establishment in Hot Springs and only one of two in the state of Arkansas.
Oaklawn Racing and Gaming
Fast track to 2008, Oaklawn Park almost-instantaneously became the state’s largest gambling facility due to its addition of approximately $3,000,000 worth of casino-style slot machines, poker tables, and an Instant Racing complex where betters are allowed to bet on replays of races already run. Oaklawn Park would soon change its name to Oaklawn Racing and Gaming.
Today, Oaklawn is known as the home of the Racing Festival of the South and the Arkansas Derby, which hosts the biggest names in the world of thoroughbred racing with such names as Temperance Hill, Cigar, Curlin, Paseana, Azeri, Tiffany Lass, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Rachel Alexandra, Lookin At Lucky, Blind Luck, Zenyatta, Close Hatches, Work All Week, Will Take Charge, and the 2017 Horse of the Year candidate Gun Runner.