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Longtime horse racing figure Charles J. Cella dies at 81

Charles Cella

In this photo taken April 3, 2010, Charles Cella, far right, watches thoroughbreds being led to the paddock at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., before the Oaklawn Handicap horse race. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

AP

Charles J. Cella, who helped turn Oaklawn Park into a major racing destination in the South as a third-generation president of the Arkansas track and a thoroughbred owner himself, has died. He was 81.

He died of complications from Parkinson’s disease on Wednesday at his home in St. Louis, his sons John and Louis Cella told Oaklawn Racing & Gaming.

Cella took over as president of Oaklawn Jockey Club in Hot Springs in 1968 upon the death of his father, John G. Cella. The younger Cella led the track to even greater success through such innovations as full-card interstate simulcasting and the Racing Festival of the South. In 2005, the Cella family and Oaklawn Park received the Eclipse Award of Merit for their contributions to U.S. racing.