Oaklawn Park kicks off its 57-day race meet on Friday and will run through May 4 (Kentucky Derby Day).

This is a dramatic shift in race dates for this historic track with their opening date now two weeks later than normal and racing into May is three weeks further in the year than they’ve ever been.

The shift in dates was an attempt to push more racing out of January, a month that has typically hurt the track in the past due to weather. They lost two racing dates last year due to January weather, bringing the total to 14 January weather-related cancellations since 2008.

Shuffling the racing dates to improve the racing quality is just one of many things Oaklawn Park does that benefits horseplayers. They have led the pack in horseplayer-friendly decisions.

You will never see them drag their post times to soak in additional betting dollars. First post on Friday is 10:35 a.m. PT. You can bet they will be set to break at precisely that time.

They do not accept computer batch betting into their pools. This is significant. Computer batch betting can make up as much as 30 percent of the betting in the final minute of wagering and it can be a big revenue impact to the track. However, it is extraordinarily bothersome to horseplayers as there can be wild odds movement after they break from the gate.

The fact that Oaklawn Park foregoes the revenue in favor of the horseplayers is fantastic and rare.

The racing at Oaklawn Park is arguably the best in the country. They typically have large, competitive fields (11, 12 deep at times) which induce great betting opportunities. It’s not uncommon to see the favorite at 7-2 or 4-1 on the toteboard.

The fields aren’t just deep. They are quality-laden. It enhances the handicapping experience by bringing in many handicapping angles.

Per usual, Oaklawn will host one of the marquee Triple Crown preps, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. This is always held three weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah used the Arkansas path in 2015. He won the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby that year before taking the Kentucky Derby.

Interestingly, Oaklawn Park was the first track to hold a card full of stakes races (then called the Racing Festival of the South). It was normal for tracks to hold one stakes race on each card but the format of combining them to make a big racing day has now been adopted by many tracks.

Oaklawn Park runs Thursday through Sunday each week and their typical first post time is 11 a.m. PT.

Play of the week

The horse racing play of the week comes at Sam Houston on Friday (their opening day). It is in the 6th race, a maiden claiming race at 1 mile on the dirt.

The play here is Linus (No. 8). He is a deep closer who is facing a very weak field here. He ships in from a much tougher circuit (Remington Park) and was facing, and beating, better company. His morning line is 3-1.

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