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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Thousands headed to Oaklawn Park for the first day of the 2022-2023 racing season. Whether it was their first Opening Day or their 20th, something just keeps drawing people back.
“This is my first opening day,” Karen Mitchell, a fan who spent the day with her family, said. “But I always try to come out on the weekends when I’m not going.”
Other fans are just as excited.
“We come every year at the same race when they open the gates,” Phillip Wright said. “We’re here the first day of every year.”
While the season may not look exactly the same as years past, it’s not a part of the tradition.
“Excited for opening day, we’re glad to be able to do it again in December like we did last year,” General Manager of Oaklawn Wayne Smith said. “It was an experiment for us last year and it worked for us, so we’re very, very glad to be open.”
While they’re excited for the season to be here, Smith said it takes a lot of work.
“I hope we slow down just a tad, there’s always change at Oaklawn, and I think that’s one of the things we’ve embraced over the last six to 10 years,” Smith said. “So will there be more things? Maybe you’ll see next December when we open up again.”
Among many changes, Oaklawn recently installed a new sports bar where the tellers used to be; and while those changes are exciting, it’s not what keeps people coming back.
“They run it well, they treat you like a customer,” Steve Becker, a longtime attendee of opening day, said. “I’ve been to a lot of racetracks and you don’t get treated like a customer, so, Oaklawn does it right.”
On Saturday, Oaklawn will sell 50-cent corned beef sandwiches.
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