HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — Oaklawn's summertime construction projects include making preparations to race in warmer weather in 2019, when the live meet will stretch into early May, according to Jennifer Hoyt, media relations manager.

Because the live meet's dates have been shifted to start Jan. 25 and end May 4, Hoyt said Oaklawn has focused a lot of its attention on preparing the grandstand for warmer temperatures.

"We've got all scaffolding on the (south) end of the grandstand, and what we're doing is really preparing the grandstand to race in warmer weather, because in mid-April it's just starting to get hot," she said.

"But when you go toward late April and early May, which we will be in 2019, it could get pretty warm here. So we've actually been doing a lot of work that's taken almost all summer to install these huge ceiling fans. So we're installing that, we've been upgrading the air conditioning and The Carousel (Restaurant) has gotten a face-lift. A lot of our focus this summer has been on preparing the grandstand for the warmer weather that we will have to face with racing next year."

Shortly after the Arkansas Derby on April 14, Oaklawn broke ground on three new barns and a new winner's circle, which are on schedule to open when the horsemen return on Nov. 26, the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record reported.

The new barns are located behind the track directly across from the grandstand, Hoyt said.

"What we've done is we've kind of started a row," she said. "It started with the Zenyatta Barn that opened in 2016. Then we came back the following year and added American Pharoah. And then we had three barns last year. And all those five barns are all in a row.

"One of the three barns this year is at the end of that row and then the other two are across, and there is additional space for more barns in the future. If you're in the grandstand ... you're looking straight back from the grandstand is really the best way to describe it."

The new barns are replacing older barns, four of which have been torn down this year.

"Basically what we're doing is we're taking down the older barns that are the ones that are along closest to the parking area and we're replacing them with the newer, modern barns," she said. "Basically we're shifting the barn area to some extent so that we can create more parking for guests and horsemen, but at the same time, we're providing more stalls and better, more modern barns.

"Barn 43 was the barn where the horses actually had to cross the street ... so they will no longer have to do that. So that's kind of an advantage to that barn not being there."

A new winner's circle on the north apron of the grandstand will get fans closer to the winners on a daily basis and let groups continue enjoying the excitement of going to the winner's circle without having to cross the muddy track on wet race days. The project, Hoyt said, is right on track to be open when horses return in November.

"The barn area opens Nov. 26. ... So that's kind of our goal to get everything ready for that time," she said. "Not to say that there won't be a little bit of things to be done because we won't start to see the big bulk of our horses come in until after the first of the year, but that is our deadline."

The track surface has been remixed during the summer months, which Hoyt said is being put back down now.

"It's very strategic how they take it off each summer," she said. "So you have your backside, your turns and your stretch. They put it all in the infield and mix it so if one area had more stuff in it than the other, they just strategically mix it. So they've almost finished putting it back onto the track and then we'll add new material.

"We usually add 1,500 to 2,000 yards of new material each year and then we'll kind of put it to bed, let it just lie there for the next couple of months, and then we'll start really working it once we get close to the track opening which is Dec. 3. That's when we're targeting to get it open for training."

The response to the new race dates continues to be positive, Hoyt said, adding that General Manager Wayne Smith and Racing Secretary Pat Pope are currently recruiting horsemen from other tracks across the country and Canada.

"We've really had a lot of really good response to our stakes schedule. We put that out in mid-July and we just came out with a few weeks ago our condition book, so that's really got a lot of people talking," she said. "We beat every other track out there, but one of the reasons that we did that is so horsemen could plan. Right now, everybody's up at Saratoga (Springs) so you can kind of plan if you want to claim horses and get ready for Oaklawn and what you need to do."

Hoyt said the perception in the racing industry is when the live meet ends, things begin to slow down, but at Oaklawn that has not been the case the last few years.

"It's been really busy the last couple years which is great because that just shows how much we're trying to grow our racing program and improve it," she said. "We're always going to be doing something to benefit our horsemen or benefit our fans."


Information from: The Sentinel-Record,