Oaklawn Park President Louis Cella has been named 2020 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sportsman of the Year for his actions to keep live racing ongoing at the Hot Springs, Ark., track when the COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses, including most live sporting events, to halt in March 2020.
Oaklawn chose to continue its live racing season with attendance limited to horsemen, officials, essential track personnel and media representatives. When racing resumed on Friday, March 13, fans were excluded for the first time since the track opened in 1904. Oaklawn's early success served as a model for other tracks to follow in the subsequent months as they re-opened with strict safety protocols in place.
“In racing, we have an obligation,” Cella said. “It’s not like a retail store. You send your employees home and good luck and let’s talk next week.
“We have 500 people in the backstretch. We’ve got 1,500 horses that have to be fed and cared for. We have our own employees, and at that time, we’re ramped up to a thousand people. We can’t just turn the lights off and say go home. It’s not right, and we can’t do it. ”
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