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Lucrative Oaklawn meet opens with Fifth Season

Calvin Borel enters the Oaklawn meet with 4,999 wins and the track will give away trading cards celebrating his 5,000th victory when he achieves the milestone (Coady Photography)

Live racing returns to Hot Springs, Arkansas, with the opening of Oaklawn Park's 2013 meet Friday. Greeting fans will be some of the most competitive racing in America with more than $20 million available for purses as well as the popular promotions Oaklawn fans look forward to every season.

Highlighting opening weekend will be the traditional 50-cent corned beef sandwiches Saturday,  followed closely by an Oaklawn baseball cap giveaway Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21. The track celebrates Presidents Day, February 18, with the Southwest Stakes and $55,000 Progressive Cash Giveaway. Fans attending Rebel Stakes Day, March 16, will not only get a glimpse at some of the country's best three-year-olds, but could also leave with a new boat and truck, courtesy of Bradford Marine.

New in 2013, Oaklawn is planning to open its infield, complete with a Beer Garden, live music and family-friendly activities, every Saturday from Rebel Stakes through Arkansas Derby. The popular "Dawn at Oaklawn" program returns February 16 and will allow guests to get up close and personal with the horses and top racing personalities from 8-10 a.m. (CT) every Saturday through the end of the meet. Visitors can also take barn tours as part of the Saturday morning program.

Oaklawn's three-year-old stakes program is one of the most successful in the nation when it comes to producing Triple Crown hopefuls. That program should get even more competitive and exciting in 2013 with 289 points available based on the new qualifying method for the Kentucky Derby and purse increases for the Smarty Jones, Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Rebel. The $150,000 Smarty Jones and $300,000 Southwest anchor the two holiday Mondays in January and February, respectively, while the $600,000 Rebel will be the marquee event of March. The racing action culminates April 13 with the 77th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

The opening day feature is the $75,000 Fifth Season, a 1 1/16-mile stepping stone toward the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.

The potential favorite in the Fifth Season is multiple Grade 3 winner Endorsement, winner of last year's Grade 3 Texas Mile and a close third in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special. The Eoin Harty-trained six-year-old was last seen running sixth in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has entered two in the Fifth Season including Skyring, who made his mark on grass last season winning the James W. Murphy at Pimlico and narrowly losing three times at the Grade 3 level.

Others of note in the Fifth Season lineup are Oaklawn mainstays It Happened Again and Win Willy, and last year's Northern Spur victor Master Rick.

Post times will be 1:30 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Some exceptions include opening day and the two holiday Mondays when first post is 1 p.m.

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