Louis Cella, 52, was named president of Oaklawn Jockey Club after his father, Charles J. Cella, died in December. He was also named president of parent company Southwestern Enterprises Inc. Cella is the fourth generation of his family to head Oaklawn, which was founded in 1904.
Cella has a bachelor’s degree from Washington & Lee University in Virginia and a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Last year, Cella was named to the Thoroughbred Racing Association’s board of directors and also was elected to the Jockey Club, which establishes recommended standards for thoroughbred racing in North America.
What do you feel about taking over the leadership of something your family started in 1904?
Great pride and no small amount of pressure. If I can help take this iconic Arkansas institution to an even higher level, then I will have continued the tradition of those who came before me. And frankly, just the thought of that is humbling.
How important is Oaklawn to your family?
It is our DNA. It is our legacy. We are incredibly proud of it and we take it very, very seriously.
How have you prepared for your new role?
From walking hots as a kid to being involved with creating interstate merged pool simulcasting to Instant Racing and EGS [electronic games of skill] to overseeing over $75 million in new construction in recent years — I’ve pretty much been a part of everything over the last 25 years.
What are your goals for Oaklawn?
Short term: continue to build on an amazing 114-year family tradition. We just recently launched our 2018 live racing meet, and our immediate goal is another great season.
Long term: continue to offer the best entertainment we can and keep Oaklawn at the forefront of the American racing industry.
What is the state of the horse racing industry today?
We believe Arkansas through Oaklawn may have the best racing-gaming model in America — rich purses, full fields, great crowds, racing excitement and positive national publicity. Nationally, the sport is struggling. The horse population is declining. Often, racetracks are at a competitive disadvantage to other entertainment and wagering opportunities. This means we have to roll up our sleeves and work even harder to make sure Oaklawn continues to offer the quality our customers expect.
How do you plan to keep Oaklawn relevant?
First, strive for quality in everything we do. Second, take care of the customer. And third, continue to provide opportunity and security to our employees, many of whom are the second, third and even fourth generations at Oaklawn.
Oaklawn has opposed casinos in Arkansas. Will that continue under your leadership?
We will continue to oppose any measure — casino or otherwise — that will not benefit our state, the Hot Springs region and our racing industry. At the same time, we will continue to support those measures that do.
What is your favorite horse racing memory?
There are three, all equal favorites. The first was being with Dad and our family when our own Northern Spur won the Breeders’ Cup. The second was being all together to see, firsthand, Smarty Jones win the Kentucky Derby just three weeks after winning the Arkansas Derby. And the third, in honor of Dad, was the recent unveiling of the new American Pharoah statue that now majestically greets our customers coming through our gates.