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Longtime horse racing figure Charles J. Cella dies at 81

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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.

Renowned jockey Jose Flores dies in racing accident

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) A renowned jockey who was among the best in Pennsylvania history died Thursday of injuries suffered in a racing accident.

Parx Racing announced the death of Jose Flores, 56, who was racing Monday at the suburban Philadelphia track when his horse went down and Flores was thrown off. The jockey hit the ground headfirst and suffered a massive trauma.

He was removed from life support Thursday afternoon.

Flores won 4,650 races in a career that spanned more than three decades. He was the top career earner at Parx, formerly known as Philadelphia Park.

“It’s unbelievable, just sickening,” Scott Lake, the top trainer at Parx, who has known Flores since 1991, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “He was just tremendous, a nice guy, always a professional.”

Flores’ mounts earned $64 million in nearly 29,000 career starts, according to the Equibase thoroughbred database.

Parx called Flores an “outstanding jockey” and expressed condolences to his family.

The Jockeys’ Guild said Flores is the 157th jockey to die in a racing accident in unofficial records going back to 1940. The group said that before Flores, it had no record of a jockey ever being killed in an accident at a Pennsylvania track.

Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.