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My name is Mike Halterman and I miss Oaklawn Park.
I’m now on my second year of being unable to attend live racing there, and Covid, I’ve about had enough of you.
Here are 10 reasons why I miss Oaklawn:
The five-hour drive from my home in southwest Missouri through the rolling hills of Arkansas, thinking all the while that there has to be a better, easier, more efficient way to get to Hot Springs. Guess what? There’s not! They all suck! They all take five hours and they’re all boring.
The lady selling programs and tip sheets at the front entrance to the track has been there for the entire 21st Century (at least) and is the same every day. She would definitely have a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and drink whiskey from a bottle with a straw if they let her.
She’s always friendly, never bitchy, and able to deal with 20-25 idiots shoving money at her at the same time. She hands back the correct change every time, without missing a beat. That’s a very overlooked skill, if you ask me.
Getting a hot dog before the races begin. Trying to decide if it’s worth the hassle, standing in line for what seems like forever, then using the nasty condiment dispensers that sit on a tiny table and get used by 20,000 other people just like me.
And why is it that whenever I try to make the condiments come out in even spurts, they always come out in BIG SPLATS?! It never fails. Do I need an online class in the proper techniques of condiment dispenser-using?
Oh well, that $5 hot dog always tastes better at the track.
Checking out the regulars who are there every time I go:
The horses coming into the paddock to be saddled. This is my favorite part of the day. I love watching the interactions between the horses, trainers, and hot walkers. Seeing those beautiful, high-strung animals up close and watching the talented and patient trainers work with them is mesmerizing.
At Oaklawn, it’s so special because the paddock is inside and fans can get close to the action. I’ll never forget the day that the legendary Zenyatta (the greatest race horse ever) entered the paddock and the hush that fell over all of us. It was a magical moment.
Seeing D. Wayne Lukas and always admiring how dedicated he is to horse racing. He will die at the track some day, and that’s the way he wants it.
Seeing Steve Asmussen (my favorite trainer) and wondering why he doesn’t get a haircut. Surely, he can afford a haircut with all the races that he wins. Maybe he’s just too damn busy winning! How can he keep up with all the horses he has stabled across the country?
I also miss seeing Brad Cox and thinking to myself, ‘I wish I had his future.’ He’s going to be one of the best ever.
The jockeys. Every time I see them bouncing down the steps from the jock’s room to the paddock, I’m reminded how small they actually are. I’m amazed that their job is to control a 1,000-pound animal who’s running against many other 1,000-pound animals, knowing that one bad move might get them seriously injured or killed.
I’m not one to criticize a jockey because there ain’t no way I’d have the guts to do what they do.
Reading the program, studying the race, trying to figure out who’s going to win this damn thing. So much to consider. How many races has the horse won? Who’s the trainer? Who’s the jockey? Is he a speed horse? Is he a closer? Is he a stalker? Has he murdered a stablemate? Are his ears up? Does he look ready? Does he look calm? Where else has he run? Did he take a crap during the post parade? Why do we put ourselves through this hell?
I’ll tell you why. We want to prove how damn smart we are. We can take all this information and somehow digest it all, then pick who’s going to win this race, all the while forgetting that we’re betting on an animal who might just say, “The hell with it, I don’t feel like running in a circle today.”
The thrill of cashing a winning ticket because, by golly, for one shining moment, YOU were smarter than a lot of other dumbasses. YOU spent an incredible amount of time to win maybe $5.
No matter the payout, though, it’s a great feeling, a rush you can’t duplicate, that makes everything – your five-hour boring car ride, the never-ending wait for a hot dog, the studying, the close losses, the five-hour boring car ride home – worth it.
Oaklawn is a magical place, as is its city, Hot Springs. Let’s do everything we can do to stop this pandemic so that many other fans like me can return there soon.
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