Charles Cella, the driving force behind Oaklawn Racing Park from 1968 forward, died December 2017 at age 81.
His legacy to Arkansas thoroughbred racing has made Hot Springs the premier tourist-draw in the state. In 2004, he pushed the Arkansas Derby purse to $1 million. Without blinking an eye, he then offered $5 million to any horse that cantered off with the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Derby. Smarty Jones did it and Cella received the Eclipse Award of Merit for his sportsmanship.
Cella enjoyed watching Smarty Jones breeze down the Hot Springs track in 2004. He smiled at the black, blazed-face filly Zenyatta tucking Arkansas into her 19 consecutive wins out of a 20-race career. He took pride in the bright bay colt, American Pharoah and his Triple Crown victory.
When the call to post rings out January 13, 2017 at Oaklawn, Cella’s love of the fans, the horses, and the racing programs rounds the far turn and thunders toward another season. Thanks, Charles Cella.