Barn Notes 12/26/23

Compiled by Robert Yates

Longtime Oaklawn executive Eric Jackson will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame next year, becoming the eighth Oaklawn-related figure to receive the honor.

A Hot Springs native, Jackson, 73, became Oaklawn’s director of operations in 1978 and served as general manager from 1987 until March 2017, when he was named senior vice president. He has been on Oaklawn’s board of directors since 1994.

“A big surprise,” Jackson said of his Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame selection, “but it’s always a good reflection on racing.”

Under Jackson’s leadership, Oaklawn stemmed business slides by adding Sunday racing in 1989 and pioneering interstate simulcasting a year later. Reeling again in the late 1990s, it was Jackson’s brainchild, Instant Racing, which sparked Oaklawn’s greatest comeback. Introduced in 2000, Instant Racing is an electronic pari-mutuel historical horse racing product wrapped in a Las Vegas-style slot machine.

Revenue generated by Instant Racing fueled dramatic purse growth and preceded passage of a statewide constitutional amendment in 2018 that brought full-fledged casino gambling to Oaklawn. Oaklawn now offers the country’s largest winter purses, projected to average more than $900,000 daily in 2023-2024. The daily average in 1999 was $215,306.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas lauded Jackson for his accomplishments. Lukas started his first horse at Oaklawn in 1983, was its leading trainer in 1987 and 2011 and now annually winters in Hot Springs.

“Every once in a while, an individual comes along in racing and makes a huge difference – from a management standpoint, from all aspects of moving it forward,” Lukas said. “Eric Jackson did that. Not only was he instrumental in the gaming contract, the gaming itself, but he ran a really good, tight ship here that made everybody in Arkansas proud.”

Oaklawn-connected individuals already in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame are:

● Larry Snyder (a 1987 inductee), who won seven Oaklawn riding titles (1965, 1966, 1969, 1977, 1980, 1981 and 1982) and was a longtime Oaklawn steward before his death in October 2018.

● Pat Day (1999), the retired Hall of Fame jockey who is the winningest rider in Oaklawn history (1,264 victories), owns a record 12 Oaklawn riding titles (1983-1994), won nine Triple Crown races, including the 1992 Kentucky Derby aboard Lil E. Tee, and four Eclipse Awards as the country’s outstanding jockey (1984, 1986, 1987 and 1991).

● John Ed Anthony (2001), who is Oaklawn’s all-time winningest owner with 290 victories, including three this season, and campaigned Eclipse Award winners Temperence Hill, Vanlandingham and Prairie Bayou.

● Charles Cella (2008), who was Oaklawn’s president from 1968 until his death in December 2017.

● Cal Partee Sr. (2008), the late owner who won 223 career races at Oaklawn and best known for campaigning Lil E. Tee, the 1992 Arkansas Derby runner-up who went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

● Calvin Borel (2011), the still-active Hall of Fame jockey who was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 1995 and 2001, is its third-winningest rider in history (977) and a three-time Kentucky Derby winner (2007, 2009 and 2010).

● Terry Wallace (2012), the late track announcer who called races at Oaklawn in 1975-2011.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony is April 19 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. Jackson will also be inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame Feb. 16 at the Statehouse Convention Center.

Finish Lines

Unbeaten Divine Gal ($27.20) represented trainer Donnie K. Von Hemels 312th career Oaklawn victory in the eighth race Dec. 17, a $140,000 entry-level allowance sprint for 2-year-old fillies. Von Hemel, the 14th-winningest trainer in Oaklawn history, conditions Divine Gal for co-owners Norma Lee Stockseth and Todd Dunn. The trio teamed to win Oaklawn’s $200,000 G3-Honeybee Stakes or 3-year-old fillies in 2018 with Cosmic Burst. The Honeybee is worth a record $400,000 in 2024. … King Russell, the 2023 Arkansas Derby runner-up, recorded his fifth workout this season at Oaklawn, covering 5 furlongs in 1:04 Sunday morning in advance of his 4-year-old debut. The track was muddy. “King Russell’s doing very well,” trainer Ron Moquett said before the work. “We look to run in a race here at Oaklawn, probably right after the first of the year.” After finishing second in the $1.25 million G1-Arkansas Derby, King Russell ran 15th in the Kentucky Derby. He’s unraced since a seventh in the $400,000 G3-Matt Winn Stakes June 11 at Ellis Park.