Oak Grove Racing and Gaming kicked off the racing season Friday with its inaugural race featuring harness horse racing, betting, temporary tents, bleachers, food trucks and a beer garden. Another round of races will begin at 2:05 p.m. today at the track.
A tent where patrons can place wagers and bets on the races and purchase tokens to redeem at the beer garden is on the left.
Past the tent is a scaffolding where announcers and officials sit well above the stands to observe and officiate the races. Just after the scaffolding sits two sets of bleachers which will be used until grandstands can be built for the races next year.
Three food trucks sat next to the bleachers, featuring barbeque, burgers and New York-style hotdogs. On the other side of the food trucks is the beer garden, which was fenced off and those drinking beer had to stay in the beer garden.
As the first race began, the bleachers were almost full of patrons interested to see the potential of the new race track. Some stood just behind the fence of the race track as jockeys sitting in harnesses zoomed by with their horses.
“Things are progressing well,” Peter Szymanski, the director of racing, said of the race Friday.
“Nice crowd for a non-weekend opening. The good Lord cooperated with us weather-wise. The fans are having a good time — eating, drinking, wagering. The horsemen are enjoying themselves — they love the facilities and the track. Of course, this is just a small part of what’s going to be.”
Oak Grove Mayor Theresa Jarvis also felt the inaugural event went well; however, she expected more to attend.
“The turnout's pretty good, but I was expecting a lot more,” Jarvis said. “They didn’t advertise very hard because they really didn’t have enough room for thousands of people and they knew that.”
Construction is well underway at the track as patrons could view a steel skeleton of what the gaming hotel and casino will be just on the far side of the track. However, equestrian facilities and horse stables have already been built.
Despite having a turnout of a little less than expected and with the races hosting temporary tents and seating, both Symanski and Jarvis are hopeful for the future and expect it to be a big attraction for Oak Grove.
“It’s only going to get better,” Jarvis said. “As good as it is today and it’s not even done, I think everybody’s real excited, especially I am. I think it’s fun and gives something for us in Oak Grove to do.
“It’s something that will put us on the map and give our community a chance for something to do and jobs for our citizens, there’s 400 of those. So, I’m excited.”
Following the conclusion of the racing season in November, Symanski shared that Oak Grove Racing and Gaming will take time to evaluate what they did well and not so well with the current races before officially opening with all of the construction complete.
“Hopefully, we’ll make good from there and next year will be bigger and better,” he said. “The facility will be up to speed and all the amenities for customers will be here and customer service will be great.
“(Next year), we’re expecting good crowds Saturdays and Sundays, and most of our marketing and advertising campaign will kick in, and of course, the crowd should amplify from there.”
The races will run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 10.
Through October, the track will open at noon, with races beginning at 2:05 p.m. and the track closing at 5:15 p.m. Through November, the track will open at 11 a.m., with races beginning at 1:05 p.m. and the track closing at 4:15 p.m.
Reach Avery Seeger at 270-887-3236 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AveryNewEra