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Fifth Season highlights Oaklawn's opening day card

Win Willy (left), who relishes the "atmosphere" at Oaklawn Park, is the top draw on Friday's opener (Kurtis Coady/Coady Photography)

Despite nearly a half foot of snow hitting Hot Springs, Arkansas, Sunday night, Oaklawn Park is scheduled to open the doors on its 2011 season Friday. The 54-day meet will be held on a Thursday through Sunday basis, with two special holiday Monday cards, and run through April 16.

Oaklawn has not been open for training since Sunday, resulting in a depleted field of six horses entered for the opening day feature, the $75,000 Fifth Season S. going 1 1/16 miles. Lightly raced five-year-old Flat Out (Flatter), hero of the 2009 Smarty Jones S., was pointing for Friday's race but the lack of training time this week has kept the bay in the barn.

WIN WILLY (Monarchos) also hasn't been able to work, recording his last move on January 4, but trainer Mac Robertson has still entered his charge in the Fifth Season. A horse for the course, Win Willy has competed just three times since running second in last April's Oaklawn H. (G2), finishing second in the Grover (Buddy) Delp Memorial S. before taking the Brandywine S. during the fall at Delaware Park.

"He just eats good here," Robertson said of Win Willy's preference for Oaklawn. "I think the water is a little better than other places, plus it's really quiet back here. He can be a nervous type of horse, but not much bothers him here. It's a great atmosphere for a horse on top of being a great town for the fans. Everybody here seems to get into the racing. It's such a nice place."

Forced to skip the 2009 Kentucky Derby (G1) due to a leg injury, Win Willy finally got his chance to compete at Churchill Downs when lining up for the Clark H. (G1) last out on November 26. The gray rallied late to finish fifth but was placed fourth via disqualification of another rival in that nine-furlong affair.

"I was hoping it would come up soft for a Grade 1," Robertson admitted. "I figured the horses from the Breeders' Cup who ran well wouldn't be likely to turn around in three weeks and the horses who didn't run well would still be making excuses. It came up pretty wide-open, but they backed the pace down and then when he tried to get out he got squeezed pretty good."

Win Willy will have to face only five rivals on Friday, among them ATONED (Repent). That six-year-old dark bay will be making his Oaklawn Park debut in the Fifth Season off a pair of unplaced efforts at Churchill Downs and Fair Grounds. The Neil Howard-trained Grade 3 winner was a good third in the Turfway Park Fall Championship S. (G3) prior to those two and will ship in from Fair Grounds for this test.

While STACHYS (Candy Ride [Arg]) and CRYPTOLIGHT (Fantastic Light) aren't as highly regarded as Win Willy, either one could provide an upset following easy stakes wins. Stachys racked up three straight victories over the summer and is exiting a half-length score in the Zia Park Derby on December 4. Cryptolight dominated the Mountaineer Mile H. on November 6 by 5 3/4 lengths, earning a field-best BRIS Speed rating of 107. His personal career-best Speed rating of 113 actually came when he ran second in August's West Virginia Governor's S.

NORTHERN GIANT (Giant's Causeway) and KATE'S MAIN MAN (Bernstein) complete the field for the Fifth Season.

Opening weekend will also feature the $50,000 Dixie Belle S. sending three-year-old fillies six furlongs on Saturday, while Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, will be highlighted by the $100,000 Smarty Jones S. for three-year-olds going a mile. That latter event kicks off the three-year-old preps leading up to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 16. The other two preps are the $250,000 Southwest S. (G3) on President's Day, February 21, and the $300,000 Rebel S. (G2) on March 19.

The Arkansas Derby is the culmination of the Racing Festival of the South, which begins on April 9 with the $350,000 Oaklawn 'Cap and also includes the $500,000 Apple Blossom H. (G1) on April 15.

Arkansas-breds will also get their turn in the spotlight this season when Natural State stars square off in four stakes held April 2-3.

Oaklawn Park will bring back its traditional 50-cent corned beef sandwiches on Saturday, while Monday will see Zenyatta bobbleheads given away with each paid admission, while supplies last. Last year, Oaklawn honored 2009 Horse of the Year and Fantasy S. (G2) winner Rachel Alexandra with a bobblehead. This year, Zenyatta gets the honor as the track commemorates her two Apple Blossom victories. In her 2010 Apple Blossom win, Zenyatta matched Cigar and Citation with 16 consecutive victories and helped create one of the most memorable days of racing in Oaklawn history.

Oaklawn's special Monday card for President's Day will feature the $55,000 Progressive Cash Giveaway and there will be a Boat and Truck Giveaway, sponsored by Bradford Marine, on March 19.

First post is 1:30 p.m. (CT) weekdays and Sundays. Saturdays and holiday Mondays will have a 1 p.m. first post. Opening day and February 6 will have a special post of 1 p.m., while April 16, Arkansas Derby Day, will begin at noon.


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