Oaklawn Park organized horseracing events for the first time on February 24, 1905. At that time, the track had only six races a day, just like British cards. In 1907, Oaklawn was forced to close down all races due to political turmoil in the state. Louis Cella bought the track, as the original business partners were all dead. In 1916, the track reopened under the patronage of The Business Men's League of Hot Springs. When Louis Cella died, the ownership of the track was handed over to his brother, Charles. The first Arkansas Derby was run in 1936 for a purse of $5,000. Unlike most American tracks, Oaklawn remained open in 1944 but World War II caught up with Oaklawn Park and the track was closed in 1945. Just after the Second World War, a major clubhouse renovation and a resurfacing of the track began. In 1961, the track extended the season to 43 days. The track had a good year and it reached the fifth spot on the list of the most profitable and successful tracks in North America.
Charles J. Cella, the grandson and great nephew of Charles and Louis Cella, has been at the track's helm since 1968. His father, the late John Cella, served as track president during the modern era of Oaklawn until his death in 1968.
Under John Cella, Oaklawn asserted itself as an industry leader when it became a charter member of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a forerunner of today's national racing organization which operates under a self-imposed code of standards and ethics. John Cella served as president of the TRA in 1959-60. Charles Cella continued Oaklawn's close relationship with the TRA, serving as the youngest president in its history in 1975-76.
The independence that comes from the Cella family's stewardship has allowed Oaklawn to enter an era of growth unmatched by any other racing center in America. With multimillion dollar capital and racing improvements, the track has reached elite status in the United States.