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Sports

Oaklawn owner secured insurance of bonus two days before Derby

| Tuesday, May 4, 2004

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- As owner and president of Oaklawn Park, gambling comes naturally to Charles Cella.

But he doesn't bet foolishly.

That's why Cella and his family locked up insurance coverage for Oaklawn's $5 million Centennial Bonus two days before Smarty Jones won the prize with his Kentucky Derby victory. Cella announced the bonus last fall to honor the track's 100th birthday and his family, which has owned Oaklawn since it opened.

The $5 million was offered to any horse that won the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn and the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Smarty Jones completed the trifecta Saturday when he caught the pacesetting Lion Heart near the top of the stretch and pulled away to win the Derby by 2.75 lengths.

It is the largest such payout by a single track in racing history and matches the bonus that Visa has offered for a Triple Crown winner since 1995.

In October, half of the Oaklawn bonus was insured by Levin Insurance Services of Goshen, Ky. When Smarty Jones captured the Arkansas Derby by running the final one-eighth of a mile in 12.5 seconds, the Cella family started work on insuring the remaining $2.5 million.

"At the Arkansas Derby, he won with such command and when you compare the times with the other big 3-year-old races in other states, then you look at the last fraction at 12 seconds and change, that's the markings of a champion," said Lou Cella, son of Charles Cella and vice president of Oaklawn. John Cella, another son, is also a vice president.

"We huddled up that Monday and called our broker and said, 'We've got to cover this horse because he's going to win this race,"' Lou Cella said. "We closed the deal on Thursday before the Derby. It was last minute."

Charles Cella was unavailable Monday and Lou Cella said he wouldn't disclose what the family paid for the policies.

However, the policy bought last week cost more than the one purchased in October.

"We can't get into details, but one would imagine that leading up to the Derby when you have the favorite would be a little more expensive than a no-name horse back in the fall of 2003," Cella said.

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