Arkansas Horseracing

Arkansas horseracing is best known for its lone horseracing track - Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs. However, there was a lesser known horseracing track in Hot Springs called Essex Park.

In 1902, William McGuigan, a member of the state legislature, bought land on Malvern Avenue which he transformed into Essex Park. Back in the day, travel by train was the choice travel option and Essex Park was just a short hike from the train route.

Opening in 1904, Essex Park featured a wooden grandstand and horse stalls. Behind the facility, Lake Catherine provided a scenic backdrop to the horseracing action.

In 1907 the Arkansas State Legislature halted betting on horse racing but in 1917 it re-opened horse racing. Bad luck struck Essex Park in March 30, 1917, as its grandstand was destroyed by fire, just a day after its grand re-opening. Essex Park wasn’t able to rise from the ashes.

Meanwhile, Oaklawn Jockey Club opened on February 24, 1905. During the early years the track only ran six races a day. In 1918, Louis Cella died and the ownership of the track was transferred to his brother, Charles.

In 1934, the track began a modern meeting with a larger card. The first Arkansas Derby was held in 1936 for a purse of $5,000. On October 29, 1940, Charles G. Cella died and the presidency was handed to his son, John G. Cella. By 1943, the Arkansas Derby had a purse of $10,000.

Since then, Oaklawn continued to climb in handle, attendance and purses.

Horseracing in Arkansas is overseen by the Arkansas State Racing Commission.

Arkansas Horseracing Track

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