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  • Writer's pictureDiana McDaniel Hampo

Oaklawn Park Ponies...Something to Have Faith In

If you grew up in Hot Springs you will understand this post. This morning at 7:30, as I drove

past Oaklawn, there were....there horses! Running, trotting, walking and sidestepping. They snorted, huffed and puffed,=. Their hot breath floated off in the cold morning air. Those first racehorses, who always appear after Thanksgiving, tell me the world is still spinning. It's all messed up, the tilt, speed and trajectory are cattywampas but i know it's still spinning, because the thoroughbreds are back on the Oaklawn track.

Some things, a very few things are normal. I almost cried as they galloped past, their heavy hoof beats matching my heart.

We all have different Oaklawn memories. In the 60s kids weren't allowed at the racetrack but we still had our family traditions. Sometimes my dad, I. Granger McDaniel and I would sit in his little Thunderbird and watch folks in the crosswalk and on the sidewalk. Lot's of people dressed up for the racetrack back then, and Dad and I would try to guess who was wearing new, uncomfortable shoes.

My mom and I went to church at St. Luke's Episcopal almost every Sunday, and sometimes one of my brothers, Jack and Granger, who were teenagers, would grudgingly come with us too. If I behaved in church, if I kept the little lacy doily on my head, if I didn't squirm too much my mom, Ann Stell, rewarded me.

The track wasn't open on Sunday's back then but dad had friends who were horse owners and trainers. So mom was able to take me back to the paddock and we walked past the stalls talking to the horses. Mom usually pulled a bag of carrots out of her fashionable Sunday purse and I would feed the hungry ponies. But I always dropped the carrot into the stall when the horses were half finished. Hot walkers told me they sometimes liked to bite. I was scared but delighted.

Of course, when my big brother,Granger, turned 18 he headed to the track...all the time. When he was strapped for cash he would come to my pink bedroom, I was just 7, and we would negotiate. He always wanted to borrow the eight or ten dollars I had in my piggy bank ( I actually used a giant gin bottle to hold my change). It was all pennies, nickles and dimes but he didn't care. Then we'd sit on the floor rolling the change or putting it in baggies. Granger always promised he'd double my investment, but I don't remember that ever happening.

Oaklawn is part of our lives, good, bad or ugly. It's part of the fabric of Hot Springs. And the ponies are back, so there will be a race meet. in some form or fashion, this year. At least something is normal!

PS I stole that picture online. If you're from Hot Springs you know that. Mine were too blurry.

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