Snow is plowed off the track surface at Oaklawn Park on Tuesday, Feb. 16
Subzero temperatures and approximately eight inches of snow have caused increasingly difficult conditions for horsemen at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ak. With up to 10 more inches of snow in the forecast and temperatures remaining below freezing for the next 48 hours, grooms and their charges alike have hunkered down to wait out the weather.
The main track has not been open for training or racing since Thursday, Feb. 11, and while some trainers have opted to jog horses in their shed rows, the cold has been so severe that many have elected to simply walk their charges instead.
Racing has been cancelled through Sunday, Feb. 21, with Oaklawn’s major graded stakes rescheduled for the week of Feb. 25-28.
“We’ll have a little more coming out here in the next couple days on how the dates are going to be shifted in terms of when we’re going to run what and on what day,” Oaklawn’s general manager Wayne Smith told Horse Racing Nation. “We just don’t have that understanding at this point. I mean we’re not supposed to get out of the 20s until Friday.”
Not accustomed to this level of winter storm, most of the town of Hot Springs has shut down, according to locals. Some off-track apartments and hotels have lost water access as lines freeze over, so several backstretch workers are relying on friends’ places for water access.
At the track, additions to the grooms’ regular chores are tasks like breaking open the top layers of ice on water buckets so their horses have access to water, and working to keep the racetrack’s water lines from freezing.
One trainer noted: “It’s really not that bad if you’re dressed and stay working, but standing around is d*** cold real quick!”
Track maintenance workers spent much of Tuesday plowing snow off the track surface itself and around the backstretch, and the general hope among stable staff is that training will be able to resume when temperatures rise above freezing long enough to thaw out the track surface.
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